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Industry Needs to Steer Teens Towards the Trades

By Ken Lambert, CSI posted 11-04-2019 01:38 PM


Editor's Note: CSI is pleased to publish this blog from Ken Lambert, current CSI Chapter President in New Hampshire. If you have an idea or opinion you would like to share with your colleagues in the construction industry, please contact CSI Content Strategist Peter Kray at He would love to help publish your thoughts.


It was a quick and good-natured comment from a neighbor of mine, but it still struck me.  We were talking about applying for college financial aid and all that entails, and I made some comment like “Well this is going to be a real pain with the twins if or when they decide to go to college.”


The person interjected, “Oh, not ‘if’ – WHEN they both go to college.” And this is the basic attitude of nearly every adult that I know; it is the default position. And that is a problem.


If parents or other adults are demeaning or condescending towards a teen who wants to go into the building trades in lieu of the four-year college route, that young person can very easily forgo their chief interest and instead try to struggle through four or six more years of schooling for no great reason.

I did go to college, and received my bachelor’s degree. I also have been in the construction field since (or before) my college graduation. That said, I do see both sides. Being in college, or even graduating with a bachelor’s degree, does not make one intelligent. Personally I have met many college grads who are not the sharpest tack in the drawer, to put it lightly.

Alternately, I have interacted with many smart and successful folks who did not have a degree- and instead were in the construction business. My father as well as three uncles of mine all were successful in building—more successful than most of their peers of similar age.

One of the smartest people I have ever met in my life did not have a Bachelor’s Degree but rather was a firefighter in addition to running a general contracting/carpentry business.

This person was the father of one of my best friends growing up. I remember talking to him many times, from the age of 16 all the way up to 30, and myself and our circle of friends would always comment afterwards, “Man, that guy knows everything!”

It was entertaining and educational to talk with and be with him. He would randomly bring up odd subjects sometimes. Such as, “Ken, did you know that the Hungarian revolt of 1880 was really the result of….”, etc.

The guy loved to read and he loved to learn; and he was a quick learner as well, in many aspects of life and business. My good friend, his son, was an “actual” genius (PhD from MIT in engineering), and the two of them, I feel, were on equal intellectual playing fields.

By the time this carpenter/firefighter retired, he had accumulated more wealth than probably 80 percent or 90 percent of the general population, all with just an Associate’s Degree.

The point of course is that we continuously, as representatives of the AEC community, must encourage and promote teens and young adults to learn about and seek out careers in the building trades. Part of that is just stating to the general public that there is absolutely nothing wrong with being a carpenter, or a plumber, or a welder, etc. Society and the general economy needs people to fill these roles, perhaps more so than several of the degree programs now being offered by many public and private colleges.

There are many positives to working in the trades. For one, generally you would be eliminating significant college student loan debt; this alone is causing years of problems for Millennials. Another fringe benefit is the basic physical activity that is required in some of these construction roles. For many years, each day I sit in my car in a lot of traffic and then sit at a desk for much of the workday; physiologically this is not a good thing for me or anyone. 

A prime benefit of working in construction is that you get to see something that you actually helped create and build.  There is just something about that which is relevant and meaningful. When one adds all these benefits to job security and strong earning potential- it would be foolish for many to not consider a career in the Architecture/Engineering/Construction industry.




Thank you for your post- I very much agree, and greatly value my time in craftwork as much as my time in architecture. I did some work in construction, but it has never felt like as much as I wanted, and I have often wished I had found a more direct pathway to work more in construction when I was younger. It's something I think will be a part of my later career:  Both in terms of doing my own craftwork, and also encouraging young people to get involved with construction as well.

12-19-2019 12:55 PM

I wholeheartedly agree. This is a significant issue in our industry and needs to be pushed by professionals. Celebrities like Mike Rowe have done a good job of getting the word out about how much skilled trades need competent workers. I read Shop Class As Soulcraft by Matthew Crawford a few years ago, and it makes a compelling case for reemphasizing vocational education. Buildings are only going to get more complicated. Our industry must have an intelligent workforce.

11-06-2019 04:15 PM

Yes. This. All of this.  Thank you for sharing! "We continuously, as representatives of the AEC community, must encourage and promote teens and young adults to learn about and seek out careers in the building trades."