Becoming a tradesman is a great way to find a line of work that will almost always find a demand in society; while no job is ever 100-percent recession-proof, there is always going to be a need for those who have developed skill-sets in construction, masonry, plumbing, HVAC and any of the other jobs that fall under the umbrella of tradesmen. Chicago is a city build on and for tradesmen as the city was one of the pioneers of unions and trade guilds back in the early 20th century. For those looking to find their niche in the workplace and who enjoy working with their hands, becoming a tradesman might be the best option. We’ll look at what’s involved with the work, how to go about becoming a tradesmen, and the best ways to find work once you’ve arrived.
The term tradesman refers to skilled laborers of a particular school or craft: HVAC specialists, carpenters, plumbers, mechanics—all are various types of tradesmen professions. With the exception of HVAC and auto mechanics, tradesmen represent workers in crafts that have been a part of society for centuries. Tradesmen are as much a part of our society’s advancement and existence as doctors and engineers—which are really just tradesmen positions themselves, but with, generally, more schooling involved. To give an example of the breadth and importance of tradesmen in our society, the Stone Masons trace their craft all the way back to the building of the pyramids. So how does one become a tradesman?
Well, like most professions, becoming a tradesman involves a level of education and training. Depending on what line of work you’re looking to make your trade, there are a couple different ways for becoming a tradesman. In today’s age, there are generally two different ways of becoming a tradesman: the first is to attend a trade school, such as a technical or vocational school that specifically trains you for that craft and trade; from there, the novice tradesman usually takes on an apprenticeship with a master; once the apprenticeship is completed, the tradesman becomes a journeyman, building experience and skills as they practice the craft; after a while, a tradesman is considered a master and can strike out on his own. The other way to become a tradesman is to bypass the trade school and go straight for an apprenticeship. Again, it will depend on the field and the subsequent certification that will depend upon the appropriate course.
Most tradesmen work off the ranking system of pay and promotion: apprentices start out on the bottom, but as they learn and put in their time, their wages increase accordingly. Journeymen who’ve gone beyond the apprenticeship stage, can work and advance into foreman, superintendent and general superintendent positions, each with their own union-regulated pay increases. This regulation and system of pay increases is one of the major appeals for tradesmen work, as they help secure jobs, wages and proper promotional advancement. It is also this self-same regulation that means trade work is not always available for those who haven’t gone through the proper channels.
Chicago is a city of and for the union. These unions protect their own by making sure jobs that require trade work go to union workers; this means that the day laborers who practice the same trades are much more limited to the availability and pay of the work. Day laborers who want to get serious about their craft (or about the pay that comes with the craft) as well as their hire-ability should pursue apprenticeships and the proper channels to becoming a part of those unions.
While there are some positions in the tradesmen world that don’t require licensing, it depends on the state and city you’re working in. For example, Illinois doesn’t require general contractors to be licensed but Chicago does, requiring licensing for all contractor and subcontractor positions (plumbers, electricians, roofers, etc). If you’re planning on becoming a tradesmen in Chicago, your best bet is to get licensed and usually the only ways to do that are by going through the appropriate conduits listed above.
Trade work is a great way to put yourself in a master plumber career that rewards longevity, experience and rank; for those who don’t want to have to worry about some young hot shot stealing their work after they’ve been in the field for twenty-some years. And while some of the paths to becoming a tradesman can take time and effort, the time and effort expended are rewarded through the ethos of the trade and the amount of doors that you’ll find opening as you advance.
Jim Klossner writes about local issues to the city of Chicago and also tradesman advice for Cahill Plumbing.