By Dawn Papandrea
Ever glance at a home or car repair bill and think to yourself, "I'm in the wrong line of work!"? If so, it's with good reason. Skilled tradespeople who can build, repair or maintain equipment that most lay people cannot do on their own can rake in the big bucks, especially if they build their talents up enough to take the entrepreneurial small business route. What's more is that despite the high unemployment rate, skilled workers are hard to come by and therefore always in high demand.
Here's what it takes to break into six sought-after skilled trades:
The training: Aspiring plumbers learn how to dismantle a kitchen sink and clear drainpipes -- among way more complicated plumbing skills -- during apprenticeships and/or technical school or community college programs. Apprenticeship programs are generally the preferred training, as they offer an opportunity to work alongside seasoned plumbing professionals. They are usually offered jointly by union locals and affiliated companies and/or sponsored by organizations like the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipefitting Industry of the United States and Canada, among other groups.
The career path: Expect an apprenticeship to last about four to five years, during which time you'll be paid around 50 percent of the wage rate paid to experienced workers, with increases as you go. Classroom instruction will also be incorporated into your training period, teaching skills like mathematics, applied physics and chemistry, local plumbing codes and regulations, safety, etc.
Licensing 411: Most states require plumbers to be licensed. Though requirements vary, workers will have to demonstrate their knowledge on an exam, and have some experience under their belts, usually about two to five years.
Employment opportunities: According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), job prospects for plumbers, pipelayers, pipefitters and steamfitters is expected to grow 16 percent between 2008 and 2018.
The training: Light up your career by becoming an electrician. Training usually begins via an apprenticeship program (which offers pay for on-the-job training, and can last up to four years), in conjunction with classroom instruction. Local unions of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and local chapters of the National Electrical Contractors Association are among organizations that sponsor apprenticeship programs.
The career path: Each year of apprenticeship training includes a minimum of 144 hours of classroom instruction and 2,000 hours of on-the-job training. Apprentices usually earn between 30 and 50 percent of the rate paid to fully trained electricians, with wages gradually increasing. Beyond the hands-on skills learned, students will need to master topics like electrical theory, blueprint reading, electrical code requirements, and safety regulations, among others. Specialized training is also available in areas like soldering, fire alarm systems, and cranes and elevators. A number of vocational-technical schools offer electrician training. In some cases, students who complete such programs may be hired at a higher level than those who do not have formal classroom training.
Licensing 411: If you want to be an electrician, you'll need to be licensed. Licensing requirements vary by state, but they almost always include having to pass an examination in electrical theory, the National Electrical Code, and local electric and building codes. If you plan to do electrical work for the public, you'll most likely need an additional license.
Employment opportunities: Electrical work will always be needed, which is why employment of electricians is expected to increase about 12 percent between 2008 and 2018, about as fast as the average for all occupations.
3. Auto Mechanic
The training: Because of the complexities of automotive technology, formal training is more important than ever. For many, that training begins during high school, or at a technical school that specializes in automotives. Post-secondary automotive technician training programs are naturally more intense, and can take from six months to a year to complete. There's also the option to pursue a community college program, which awards a certificate or an associate degree.
The career path: As with many skilled labor positions, you'll likely start your career by working under more experienced automotive technicians, either in private businesses, or at automobile dealerships. Some automobile manufacturers and franchised dealers sponsor two-year associate degree programs in which students alternate their weeks between full-time classes and full-time work in the service departments.
Licensing 411: While there isn't a specific state licensing exam, ASE (Automotive Service Excellence) certification has practically become a requirement for finding work as a mechanic. There are eight types of certifications, each of which focus on a specializations such as engine repair or brake systems. Each certification requires at least two years of experience and a passing grade on an examination. To attain the ASE Master Automobile Technician certification, technicians must pass all eight exams.
Employment opportunities: While the numbers indicate only a 5 percent projected increase in job opportunities through 2018 (because of the struggling auto market), automotive techs can set themselves apart and speed past the job competition by earning certifications.
4. Construction Manager
The training: For those interested in building a construction manager job from the ground up, start by researching construction management programs available at many two-year colleges; you can also pursue training via construction industry associations. Over 100 colleges and universities also have programs in construction engineering, construction science, and other related fields that lead to a four-year degree, if you choose to go that route. Keep this in mind: With the ever-growing complexities of building codes, safety regulations, and other practical matters, a bachelor's degree may open up more employment opportunities.
The career path: According to the BLS, approximately 61 percent of construction managers were self-employed as of 2008, as owners of general or specialty construction firms. Those who were salaried were employed by specialty trade contractor businesses, non-residential building construction firms, and residential building construction firms.
Licensing 411: One way to set yourself apart is by pursuing a certification from either the American Institute of Constructors or the Construction Management Association of America. Although certification is not technically a requirement to work, it is a valuable credential indicating knowledge and experience.
Employment opportunities: Construction managers can expect a healthy 17 percent increase in job opportunities during the 2008-2018 decade, making it a good field to enter in the next few years.
The training: A good portion of HVAC (heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration) mechanics and installers receive the bulk of their training at technical and trade schools, or at junior and community colleges that offer HVAC programs. Most training lasts between six months and two years to complete.
The career path: To be considered experienced enough to work unsupervised, technicians generally need between six months to two years of field experience. Often, training is done through apprenticeships, which can take anywhere from three to five years to complete, but the training is paid.
Licensing 411: HVAC mechanics and installers are usually required to have licenses, depending on the states and locality. Requirements vary, but an exam is usually part of the process. In addition, technicians who purchase or work with refrigerants must be certified in their proper handling.
Employment opportunities: Good news for prospective HVAC workers: Job prospects are expected to increase 28 percent during the 2008-18 decade.
6. Aviation Maintenance
The training: To fly high in an aviation maintenance technician career, the best starting point is to attend one of the 170 Aviation Maintenance Technician schools certified by the FAA. Doing so will mean that you'll have to complete 1,900 class hours, over the course of one to two years. Some students also choose to pursue two-year or four-year degrees in avionics, aviation technology, or aviation maintenance management.
The career path: Most airline mechanics and service technicians work at major airports near large cities, while civilian mechanics may work for the U.S. Armed Forces at military bases and locations.
Licensing 411: Being an FAA-certified mechanic is a must if you wish to work in this field. For starters, most airlines will only hire mechanics that have FAA certification. Mechanics who choose to apply for an airframe or power plant certificate will need to work for at least 18 months first; for a combined A&P certificate, 30 months of experience is required. Mechanics also must take at least 16 hours of training every two years to keep their certificates current.
Employment opportunities: Employment is expected to increase by 7 percent during the 2008-2018 period, which is about as fast as the average for all occupations.
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
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