Summer is upon us, and lots of students are thinking about what to do with their time off. For high school graduates and beyond, there is the added pressure of moving out into the career world or obtaining a graduate degree. But what do you do if you are unable or don’t want to pursue what is known as “higher education”?

The college and corporate world are certainly not for everyone. Many people choose to pursue a non-traditional career path. Skilled trades and hands-on careers are fantastic options. In fact, America is facing an unprecedented skilled labor shortage due to retiring baby boomers and the emphasis on attending college. There is an enormous variety of skilled trades that may interest you, such as an electrician, diesel mechanic, pipefitter, or roofer. There is something for EVERYONE!

Many young adults don’t even know this is an option. Some skilled tradesmen share the sentiment that if they had known about this career path when they were younger, they would have started much sooner. Also, there is a stigma against “blue-collar workers,” but they are smart, skilled, and essential to our communities.

So if you are interested in the non-traditional career path, it is a fantastic time to become a professional and have a stable, lucrative career in a skilled trade. Here are some ways that might help you begin:

  • High school – A high school diploma is very important and often required, but not always. However, it will definitely give you a leg up. There are classes in high school that will put you ahead of the pack, such as auto shop or carpentry. Your high school may even offer a vocational education training program or transition to a vocational education school so ask your guidance counselor.
  • Apprenticeships – An apprenticeship is a way to jump into the workforce and a long-term career immediately. It combines on-the-job training and experience with classroom instruction. What is excellent about this route is that you are in a paid position and therefore receive the benefits of an employee. It is “learn while you earn.” Apprenticeships typically last 1 – 6 years, depending on the position. You will complete your apprenticeship with a job, money in the bank, and no school debt.
  • Labor unions – A labor union is an organized association of workers, often in a trade or profession, formed to protect and further their rights and interests. Apprenticeships usually run through a local labor union but can also include non-union contractors. A labor union can help you enter into a specific industry with support and knowledge. One very positive aspect is that the union is trying to close the gender gap in skilled trades, so women can find support for these traditionally male roles through a union.
  • Word of mouth – Find someone who does something you are interested in. Seek out a professional. Ask your parents or other adults if they know anyone in that industry and take the time to talk to them. They may belong to a labor union that can give you more information or have gotten a certification or special education for their position. Ask them:
    • How did you start on this path? What steps did you take?
    • What education or training did you receive or need?
    • What do you wish you would have known when you began?
    • How do I break into this industry?

KCKPL offers many resources to help you:

  • Databases – Job & Career Accelerator, Vocational and Career Collection, and Ferguson’s Career Guidance Center
  • Books – 300 Best Jobs Without a Four-Year Degree, any of the Cool Careers series
  • Ebooks – The ‘At Your Best’ series, including At Your Best as a Plumber, At Your Best as a Carpenter

For more information on apprenticeships and skilled trades, visit

Good luck, and for any assistance with this topic, please contact Education Librarian Ellen Collins at the West Wyandotte Library. You can email her directly at or call (913) 625-8250 ext. 5103.