Here’s an excerpt from the latest newsletter. Don’t forget to subscribe!
January 31, 2020
We’re in the midst of some minor home renovations. Two rooms that remained pretty much untouched since we moved in — our bedroom and office — are getting some love. Nothing fancy, because a bigger job is on the horizon. Just a little paint, some rearranging, and new lighting.
The electricians were here all morning putting in overhead lights in our dimly lit office. When they were on the way out, I grilled them about business, because I’m nosy like that. I am super interested in jobs that don’t involve college, both because it’s a good topic to write about and because my kid, Ian, may or may not be able to hack traditional college, even one that has supports for kids like him.
So, the guys told me that business is great. They were slammed by the recession in 2008 and had to cut their workforce in half, but that things have picked up again. Lots of people are doing construction on their homes and renovating their dimly lit office space, so the work is there.
I asked them if they are hiring new workers. They said that they would, but that “kids today don’t want to do physical labor. They just want to play on their cellphones.” It’s hard for them to find workers.
I asked them about schooling. Did they recommend a particular program or trade school? Nah, they told me. They teach people on the job how to do things. The old guy said that he went to college, but didn’t want to work in an office, so he became an electrician. He didn’t need his college education for the job. The young guy said he went straight from high school to the job.
I asked them if the guys who came from trade school were particularly good. They told me that those programs weren’t very helpful, because the best way to learn how to do a job like theirs isn’t from a textbook, but by experience.
I couldn’t exactly ask them if their job paid well, but the old guy mentioned that he lived locally. So, he’s making enough to afford the high home and taxes in this area. The young guy said he lived out in western Jersey, where houses in the woods are plentiful and relatively affordable. The old guy said that the good thing about being an electrician is that “you can work as much as you like.” He works for this big electric company during the day and then works for a buddy in the evening. That evening work is probably off-the-books, so that means that extra income never shows up on salary scales.
I’m going to continue my annoying questions of workers and owners of businesses. College isn’t for everyone, and parents like me are looking for answers.
If you want more on this topic, we talked on the blog about a friend who is sending her honors student son to automotive school next year. Also, I wrote about a girl, who decided to go to a trade school, after college last year.
Thanks for reading! Laura
9 thoughts on “Electrician Gossip: Excerpt From the Newsletter January 30, 2020”
A guy we know is working as a general contractor now.
His crew is apparently about half ex-cons, half ex-prison guards.
“half ex-cons, half ex-prison guards” – I bet they have a lot to talk about….
OMG. New Jersey and Massachusetts are radically different in their requirements. New Jersey: https://www.njconsumeraffairs.gov/elec/Pages/FAQ.aspx
The MA training requires at least 8,700 hours of instruction and practice, over 4 years. The MA training program explicitly requires physics & math, and many other courses.
I’m confused. Both stipulate a 4-year apprenticeship program, with NJ also accepting 5 years of on-the-job experience. But both also require a licensing exam, which would be hard for someone with no classroom apprenticeship experience (and no requirement for installation experience) to pass. So that means, to me, that someone with years of experience as an electrician’s helper in NJ would still be wise to go thru a formal apprenticeship program, in order to be licensed to work independently. Laura’s conversation with the electricians did not surface whether the electricians coming out of approved labor/industry apprenticeship programs were as ill-prepared as the ones coming out of proprietary trade schools. My guess is not. But of course, those with 4-year apprenticeships are more likely to work in commercial construction, which pays much better. And yes, I do have electricians in the family!
We actually talked about the license exam. They said it was hard, but that you could take a book into the exam. The guy who didn’t do any electrician classes passed the exam.
EB said, “Both stipulate a 4-year apprenticeship program, with NJ also accepting 5 years of on-the-job experience. But both also require a licensing exam, which would be hard for someone with no classroom apprenticeship experience (and no requirement for installation experience) to pass. So that means, to me, that someone with years of experience as an electrician’s helper in NJ would still be wise to go thru a formal apprenticeship program, in order to be licensed to work independently.”
That sounds about right.
How much do apprentices get paid, I wonder?
Laura, that sounds right. At the margins, a really smart and conscientious person who studied for the exam could pass. And some who complete the 4-year apprenticeship don’t pass. They can still work, but only under the supervision of a licensed electrician.
I’m intrigued by the focus on electricians and plumbers. I was thinking about the “not going to college” options or the “not going to a general education college” options and thought about the variety I think about. Many of the folks I see “not going to college” are going to college, but with a defined trade in mind, rather than looking for a general education. This includes the path many would see as academic, the CS/Engineering majors who do get hired straight out of college, but who are getting a degree and not a credential. It also includes the credentialed degrees — teaching, nursing, medical coding, . . . Then there are the training/community college options, licensed practical nurse, ultrasound tech, cardio techs, EMTs, law enforcement, . . . But, many of those options end up working for government — they are not entrepreneurial jobs.
Nursing is manual labor. Educated manual labor. Back injuries cause many early retirements.
It struck me that the upper class version of trade school is art school. However, as the internet is a visual medium, I know a number of artsy kids making a living after graduating from art school, despite the popular image of a degree in the fine arts as the equivalent of signing up for bankruptcy.
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