COS instructor advocates for the art of the trade

A welding teacher shows a younger student how to weld.

College of the Sequoias instructor Randy Emery encourages students to pursue trade careers post high school

TULARE COUNTY – For decades, young people have been told that the only way to get a good-paying job is to pursue a college education, which has led to fewer people joining trade apprenticeships. However, according to College of the Sequoias (COS) welding instructor Randy Emery, tradespeople are in high demand in the Central Valley and beyond.

Emery, who is also a director for the American Welding Society District, said that pursuing a trade job is a great idea, particularly for young students who are leaving high school and not sure what they want to do with a college education.

“They become employable because they learn a skill, and then they can better plan that advanced training, whether it be more skill training, more academic training, or business management training to start their own business,” Emery said. He added that his career arc followed the same path. Emery was a plumber for 25 years and began teaching while working in the industry.

“It is a perfect way to give a lot of people the opportunity to be employable and then figure out what they want to do,” Emery added.

One major advantage of pursuing a career in the trades is an ever-increasing demand for skilled workers in fields such as plumbing, welding, electrical repair and HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning), Emery said.

“The demand is huge across the board regardless of discipline,” Emery said. “The demand is huge because of the worker shortage and a lack of promotion. It’s seen as a ‘less-than’ opportunity and the demand is huge. I talk to companies that have stopped taking work because they don’t have the manpower to deliver it.”

He added that a local manufacturing company he works with told him they currently have a $25 million backlog due to a lack of the ability to hire suitable workers.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that jobs in the construction and extraction sector, which includes skilled labor, are anticipated to offer about 646,100 job openings each year between 2022 and 2032. While the median income across the sector is listed as $50,570, that figure is more than $4,000 above the median for all job sectors.

Plumbers and electricians are among the highest paid with national averages above $60,000 annually. Salary.com reports that annual wages for electricians in Tulare County average between $48,000 and $85,000, while plumbers can earn up to $99,800 in the Valley depending on the level of skill and experience. 

Emery explained that where tradespeople work also has a big impact on the amount they can potentially earn. He said that during a recent conference in the Bay Area, plumbers were charging an average rate of $75 an hour with a total benefits package that takes wages over $100 an hour.

“I tell companies that they are going to need to open up their checkbook,” Emery said. “I tell them that you are going to have to pay for talent.”

Another point that Emery made about the value of learning a trade versus getting a traditional college degree is the difference in debt. He described the first time that he attended a scholarship meeting and heard the numbers on the reality of student loan debt. His thought at the time was that, by the time he finished his apprenticeship program, he would have $40,000 in the bank and have bought a house; meanwhile, other students would be leaving college with tens or even hundreds of thousands in debt.

COS is currently building a $46 million skilled trades training facility in Tulare that will bring all of the various programs under one roof. But, the worker shortage ironically is impacting the ability of the campus to complete the project.

All in all, Emery said that people who are passionate about finding a way to earn a living can find tremendous satisfaction in learning a trade and they gain skills that translate into different aspects of life. He described it as “the art of work.”

“Learn a trade, make some money and figure it out,” Emery said. “It is a misconception that learning a trade is a ‘lesser pathway.’”

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