Getting Into a Career in the Trades

A graphic promoting a blog post by intern Renae Schuetter.

Renae Schuetter, Marketing Intern with Upper Peninsula Michigan Works!, spoke with Caleb, an Upper Peninsula tradesman, about the benefits of going into the trades. Read on for more information about Renae and Caleb’s conversation and a career in the trades.

After high school, students can choose several different options to continue along their career path. One such choice is to attend college. Going to a university is a great option for high school seniors who are ready for their next step. Many are expected to go to college right after high school, but college isn’t right for everyone. When I graduated from Manistique High School in 2018, 35% of my graduating class went to a four-year university (MLive). The rest of my graduating class attended community colleges or two-year colleges, entered the workforce, or joined the military.

I know a lot of people who ended up entering the workforce right after school or after a year or two of college. This is a great choice and a terrific way to start a career. However, trade schools are another possibility, and they are not talked about enough in high schools around the Upper Peninsula. I personally do not know a lot about trade schools or other routes to enter the trades in the Upper Peninsula. That’s why I decided to reach out to Caleb, a Foreman, to learn more and hopefully spread some awareness about the opportunities in the trades!

About Caleb

Caleb is a 2020 graduate from Manistique High School who grew up in Gulliver, Michigan. In high school, Caleb knew he wanted to do something with the skills he already had. The decision was tough, but he ended up going to Lineman school because of videos he watched on YouTube about the field and its benefits. He thought being a Lineman looked interesting and his curiosity grew from there. In the following interview, Caleb told us about the Lineman program, his career, and his advice for those interested in the trades!

The Electrical Line Technician Program

Caleb enrolled in the Electrical Line Technician program at Northern Michigan University (NMU) the fall after he graduated from high school. He completed an application and aced an interview to get into this program. They wanted to know his work history and to see if he was a good fit for the program and the work he’d be completing after it.

According to NMU, this program is a one-year certificate that, “Prepares graduates for employment as professional Linemen, able to install and repair cables, wires, and structures used in electrical transmission and distribution systems. Work can be physically demanding in all types of weather conditions and sometimes includes irregular hours on evenings, nights, and weekends, when needed.”

This is an intense profession, but it can be rewarding and provide you with room for personal and professional growth. This program is different than the other programs at NMU due to its affiliation with the Midwest Skills Development Center (MSDC). Caleb never stepped foot on NMU’s main campus. His program was in Gwinn.

On the first day, they teach you how to put on your gear and you climb a pole for the first time. You gradually learn more after that, becoming more advanced each day. The typical day was split – he would do his pole work in the morning, and in the afternoon, he would do classroom work. This program focused strictly on Lineman classes, such as math, CPR, essentials of living (ex. taxes), and getting your CDL. Happy with the program, Caleb said that, “This program sets you up for success.” NMU brings companies in to recruit students, as well, to ensure employment for many of the students after they graduate.

Caleb said that he was able to learn a lot from his professors and instructors by first learning basic skills and then slowly working on more advanced techniques. This ensured that they would become work-ready.

His favorite part about school, aside from the hands-on work, was all the connections that he made. Caleb did not know anyone in his program when he started. Taking it upon himself to gain connections, he talked to a few Manistique alumni that went into the field, and their insight cemented that this is what he wanted to do.

Advantages of Trade Schools

Caleb now has many opportunities that he would not have had without Lineman school. He can travel, and he said that, “The opportunities are endless.” He also talked about unions, being assigned to new places for work, and the knowledge that what he’s doing is for the benefit of people right here in the Midwest. His goal is to join a co-op, build a career, and, “Become what a company wants to see; become their guy.”

He also brought up that he will never have to worry about student loan debt. The average amount of student debt for students who attend a four-year university is around $30,000 (US News). Being a hands-on learner, he celebrated that he is done taking traditional tests. Most of the people that he works with didn’t go to Lineman school and came across being a Lineman in different ways.

Advice to Those Interested in Trades

Caleb offered advice to high school students interested in the trades. He said it’s important to know what you like and what you don’t like. Even if you are not interested in the trades right now, it is worth looking into if you enjoy working with tools or fixing broken items. There are many different high-paying, trade-related jobs available. The median pay after attending the Electrical Line Tech Program is $35 per hour, which equates to around $72,800 per year according to Northern Michigan University.

He has advice to help students pick what trade to go into. Caleb said that if you like being outdoors, look for trade careers that are outdoors. But know a lot of the time it can be that you are out in any weather condition, rain or shine, at abnormal hours. As stated above, he became interested in the electrical line tech field because of YouTube. It may take a little research and talking to others, since there are so many options, but that also means that there is something that you will be interested in.

Finding highly skilled employees is harder than ever for Michigan businesses, according to a 2019 survey by the Associated General Contractors of America. That means opportunities in the skilled trades are expected to increase. In Michigan, 545,000 skilled trade jobs will be created through 2026, in trades such as construction, manufacturing, healthcare, automotive, and information technology (MLive).

Most professional trades do not require a four-year degree, but careers in skilled trades pay 45% more than the State’s median income, according to TED research. Only 13% of high school students consider apprenticeships a good career path, while one in three Michigan parents encourage their children to enter professional trades (MLive). The stats reinforce the notion that there will be plentiful – and well-paying – opportunities in the trades in the future.

Caleb highly recommends this career path to others. He said that, “Seeing whatever you want, being on your own, and supporting yourself,” is a perk of joining the trades. He now knows people from everywhere and is making life-long friendships. He suggests applying for the Lineman program at NMU if you are interested. It is a competitive program, but worth it.

Caleb, at 20 years old, has been working – and enjoying his job – since he completed his Electrical Line Technician Certificate. He was hired at Earthcom in Lansing. He works on Wi-Fi and telephone systems now and has already been promoted to Foreman. His favorite part of working is teaching all the new guys and educating them on all the opportunities that are available. He said, “The guys are now like brothers to me.” He is excited that he has endless opportunities to travel and see as much of the world as he wants!

Thank you so much for reading about Caleb’s story. For more information about work readiness, call your local Michigan Works! at 800-285-9675.

Upper Peninsula Michigan Works! wanted to give a special thank you to Caleb for the interview.