Posted in Lessons by The Books Production Team on November 21, 2008


typewriter1          This may be the stupidest lesson I ever give here at Dr. Wizard, because if enough of you follow this advice I may someday find myself out of a job, but sometimes you’ve just got to say “What the Hell” and deliver a dose of honest reality, even if it’s a little personally painful.  The truth is that I would be doing both you and my blue-collar heritage an extreme disservice if I didn’t point out the rather obvious fact that the world needs electricians, and it will continue to need them for the foreseeable future.

          Without a doubt, one of the worst things that we have done as a society over the course of the last three decades is to propagate the myth that in order to be successful in life, you need a college education.  In part, this myth has been driven by the modern University system, which, while being technically a not-for-profitenterprise, is in fact entirely dependent upon an ever-increasing stream of tuition dollars in order to finance the construction of more awesome, hideous modern buildings and to continue the hiring of a select portion of the overstocked pool of graduate students into the professoriate.  But, in the process of propagating this myth and ensuring our own piece of financial security, we are allowing the American infrastructure to crumble into third-world oblivion.  Have you seen pictures of some of our roads?  Have you listened to my father talk every Christmas break about the lack of qualified tradesmen in the Electrical profession?  The bottom line is that far too many high school students go on to college when they would in fact have better lives, and better financial stability, if they were to instead choose the option of attending a trade school.

          In every high school graduating class in America, there are a certain number of students who have been given the gift of physical dexterity.  Oftentimes, they have an innate understanding of the way things are pieced together, but find themselves uninterested in the rather esoteric world of Platonic philosophy and Malthusian economics.  And what do we do with these students?  Rather than point them towards a trade school where they can find the training for a useful career as a plumber or a diesel automotive technician, we tell them that all students, no matter where their talent lies, should go to college – and we let the trades sort through the pack of high-school dropouts who scored a 9 on their ACT.

          But consider this.  Here are the median annual income figures for a group of tradesmen in Chicago with five years work experience: Bricklayer – $60,274; Carpenter – $51,428; Electrician – $54,924; Pipefitter – $58,889; and Plumber – $55,538.  Conversely, an Insurance Agent with 5 years experience makes on average $46,092 a year, and a Consumer Credit Analyst makes $42,534.  So my question is this: if you are an average business student, muddling through a Management degree with no strong prospects in the job marketplace, who happens to also possess strong technical problem-solving abilities, why wouldn’t you choose a trade occupation?  Would you rather be a 23-year-old journeyman electrician with no student debt and $100,000 stocked away in home equity, or would you rather live in a crappy apartment as you pay a quarter of your much smaller paycheck each month on your $100,000 student loan principle?  Furthermore, as the world continues to flatten in the twenty-first century, consumer credit analysis and the sale of insurance are the types of jobs that will most-certainly be outsourced to India, but it’s much more difficult for an electrician from Mumbai to commute to Chicago to perform a rewire of your house.

          In 1901, W.E.B. DuBois wrote “let us make philosophers of philosophers, and carpenters of carpenters.”  His point, in my opinion, is that each of us has been gifted with a certain set of natural skills that predispose us to be more adept at one profession or another.  If we were to more carefully follow this maxim, there would be less of a stigma attached to working with your hands in America.  These trade-professions are honorable, and until we do a better job of making this clear to  you, the college students of America, we’ll continue to be a country with a wealth of college graduates and a dearth of various skills.

          So, as I close this post that may one day lead to my own unemployment, I’ll argue one last time that college isn’t for everybody.  Don’t let your parents or your guidance counselors talk you into wasting four  years of your time and a whole lot of money if you’d rather feel the joy at the end of the day of having accomplished something concrete and material.  I mean, just look at LeBron James – he seems to be doing all right – and the last time I checked, his diploma reads St. Vincent and St. Mary High School of Akron, Ohio.

7 Responses

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  1. MS said, on November 21, 2008 at 10:44 pm


  2. P said, on November 22, 2008 at 1:09 am

    Do electricians not go to college in the us?

  3. Meghan Jansen said, on November 22, 2008 at 1:35 am

    Good point, Dr. Wizard. I often find myself wondering in my classes what certain people are doing in college? Clearly, they’d be happier doing something else. It’s just like they are there because that’s what’s expected.

  4. UVA Mike said, on November 22, 2008 at 1:42 am

    P: In the United States, electricians go through a paid training period of apprenticeship (my brother is a union electrician). They start out making about $15/hour and by the time they are finished, after 5 years, they make around $35/hour. It’s actually a very good job – although it doesn’t pay as well as LeBron’s.

  5. Green Wave Fever said, on November 22, 2008 at 2:35 am

    Wiz, is this post meant as atonement for the fact that you will not be taking over Webb Electric, and as such will be allowing one of Mattoon’s finest companies, one started by your great-great-grandfather, to become extinct after four generations and 70 years of continual operation?

  6. drwizard said, on November 22, 2008 at 3:00 am

    Ouch – that one stings a little bit.

  7. MS said, on November 22, 2008 at 4:29 am

    Solidarity Wiz: This guy is ending four generations of S–– in the fencing business. I like to think back on all that hard work and realize that without miles and miles of chain-link, I would have never gotten here. And something tells me that while dad and grandpa were digging holes, they were hoping that I wouldn’t bruise my hands in the same way. If they did think I was going to follow in their footsteps, well, sorry boys, but thanks for breaking your backs so I don’t have to; much appreciated. That being said, this post rings true, because there’s no one I admire or respect more than those two men.

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