Hands On

In job search circles these days much attention is paid to the tech, administrative, healthcare and bio-tech industries. And why not? These are growth areas with opportunities for advancement. But not everyone is a programmer, tech-head, numbers-person, or test tube gazer, nor should they be! There are many other industries that don’t have the “cache” or glamour, and don’t require the same level of academic study. But those who do work in these other industries find the work just as fulfilling and satisfying.


Not too long ago on a brief visit to Pasadena, California, I ran into this fellow known as Kneeling Man with Hammer, a sculpture by Viola Frey. It reminded me of the many people I’ve known who were in the building trades. Each and every one of them, skilled and creative to their core, whether they wielded a hammer, welded, built and assembled cabinets, cut tile or pulled cable. They all loved their work because they enjoyed working with their hands, knew they were contributing to something bigger than themselves, and that without their skill and efforts, lots of other things would never happen. The existence of our homes, stores, offices, bridges and tunnels and more are all the result of dedicated people in the building trades. Carpenters, steel workers, cement mixers, brick layers, painters, heavy equipment operators, electricians, HVAC installers, plumbers, tile layers, and other trade positions are all hands-on, and we interact with their work daily, whether we recognize it or not.


The men and women who get their hands dirty daily through physical labor in the building trades don’t get the glamour and the glory. Those go to the architects, designers and financiers. The builders, if they live long enough, get to see their work stand the test of time, survive the elements and the unexpected, to serve their intended purpose for generations to come.


Think about the world-famous structures that have stood the test of time, albeit some more worn than others. The Colosseum of Rome, the Great Pyramids of Egypt, the Mayan Temples of Chichen Itza, the Palaces of China, The Taj Mahal, and so many others. Even if their intended use has evolved over the centuries, their core edifices remain (mostly) solid and firm, and they stand as an everlasting testament to the labor and craftsmanship that went into their creation.


Construction work isn’t for everyone, and just because you can swing a hammer, doesn’t mean you’re qualified to be employed on a large-scale project. But if this kind of work interests you, there are ways to get a construction career off the ground. In many communities there are construction trades-related internships and on-the-job training programs offered through community colleges, construction unions, hiring halls and trade associations, as well as small construction companies that offer those interested a chance to prove what they can do. Another option is to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity, where in exchange for your efforts you’ll interact with professional builders, learn more about the various tools, and pick up some valuable hands-on trade skills.


These jobs and careers are no longer only for men. They are open to everyone (who have the skills!)!! More and more women are working in the trades, including plumbers, electrical contractors and installers, tile fitters, heavy equipment operators, and on-site supervisors who know their way around blue prints as well as the tools needed to get the job done.


There is no shortage of work in the trades, no matter which discipline you plan to pursue. Construction cranes and cement trucks are everywhere, as hiring continues, so will developers’ ability to staff and construct other buildings. Behind the fences of their job sites, professional craftspeople are measuring, cutting and installing. It takes a lot of skilled people to complete the construction of a building. New housing is being mandated by municipalities across the country, not to mention the constant erection of new offices, retail spaces and other structures, all necessitating the hiring of hard-working men and women to see the project reach its completion.


There are more options to construction work than commercial, residential and municipal building projects. Set-builders, painters and related crafts and trades are needed in many metropolitan areas to work in theater and film productions. The larger companies spend big money to ensure the quality of what their audiences see.


Did the pandemic affect the construction industries? Yes, some projects were stalled, even cancelled during the pandemic, in part due to supply chain issues, as well as health concerns and workers not returning to job sites. But most of those projects have since been revived and construction work is available for those who want it.


If this is an area of your employment interest, make sure you have or can acquire the basic skills, and look to work where you can build your skills and experience. Like all aspects of building, you start from the bottom and work your way up, hands-on, all the way!


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