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Trade School vs. College?

RF Cafe University"Factoids," "Kirt's Cogitations," and "Tech Topics Smorgasbord" are all manifestations of my ranting on various subjects relevant (usually) to the overall RF Cafe theme. All may be accessed on these pages:

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Trade School vs. College? (MS Office image) - RF CafeWe seem to have reached a crossroads in America, as well as in a lot of other similar countries. Over the last few decades government agencies, universities, public schools, and media have convinced many people that the only way to succeed and be happy and productive is to go to college and earn a Bachelor's (or higher) degree - in anything. Drilled into us continually is that the average person with at least a four-year degree will earn up to a million dollars more in his/her lifetime. Sounds good, right? As anyone with knowledge of statistics will tell you, averages are meaningless without an accompanying figure for standard deviation. That would be the same as saying if you stand with one foot in a pot of near boiling water and the other in a pot of ice water, on the average you would feel just right.

The propaganda has been so successful that millions of people have been willing to shell out tens of thousands of dollars (largely through loans that they don't think should have to be paid back) to get degrees in anything - literally. People graduate, discover there are no jobs paying high of a wage to live on while also servicing loans, then go back for a Master's degree on more borrowed (well, more like embezzled than borrowed these days) money. With a freshly minted diploma in Women's Studies, Equality Studies, Animal Rights Studies, and a host of other highly valuable "Studies" degrees, a lot of graduates are discovering that they have been sold a bill of goods and that the only thing they are qualified to actually get paid to do is teach that same crap to other skulls full of mush or maybe work the detailing line of a car wash. Meanwhile, colleges continue to raise tuition rates as they convince people that their services are essential. Check out some these public university professor salaries; many are north of $500k/yr., putting them in that evil "1%" their students are encouraged to villainize. Maybe it is time to re-consider the trades.

My own background includes beginning working years as an electrician. Having always loved electricity, magnetism, and mechanics, but not necessarily being thrilled about classroom learning, it was natural that I gravitated toward the trades early on. In fact, my high school (Southern Senior HS) offered an alternative to the college preparatory curriculum called a vocational technical track. Rather than being forced to endure three years in HS sitting through physics, mathematics, biology, chemistry, and so forth, I opted for the electrical vocational program. Whereas I probably would not have done well in the college prep track, I excelled in my VoTech classes. The first two class periods were attended at the high school, and the rest of the day was spent at a center in Annapolis, where guys like me specialized in either carpentry, electricity, masonry, auto mechanics, auto body work, or plumbing. I loved it. After taking a much-enjoyed wood shop class and an obligatory moron-level math or science class at the HS, the rest of the day was spent learning Ohm's law, the National Electric Code, how to use test equipment, wiring motor control circuits, drawing schematics, troubleshooting wiring that had been intentionally fouled, a myriad of other related tasks. We wound huge coils to demonstrate electromagnetic induction, wired a lighting circuit to be independently controlled from a dozen different locations, refurbished squirrel cage induction motors, hooked up delta and wye transformer configurations, practiced wire splicing and soldering, and even learned how to work on hot (energized) circuits. It was serious learning, but a lot of fun. Everyone in attendance wanted to be there and we all enjoyed a great sense of camaraderie (we all hated "real" school). The pièce de résistance was a coffee pot in the classroom that was full all day long, and break times which were signaled to begin when the local roach coach rolled into the parking lot.

Summers were spent working as an electrician's helper, where I had the privilege of learning about residential, commercial, and industrial wiring - often from a perspective afforded from crawling through nasty attics, basements, wall crevices, and ceiling spaces. In the process, I also learned how to deal with the public while doing service calls in private homes and in businesses. By the time I was released from high school (aka graduating), I was competent enough at electrical work to get a full-time job as a for-real electrician with my own helper - who subsequently did most of the crawl space and attic work. I never joined a union, which accounted for my exposure to a broad spectrum of the field. Over the next couple years I supervised electrical wiring efforts on townhouse, apartment, and commercial building projects, while also doing much of the wiring myself. At one point I had finally reached the pinnacle of electriciandom: my own truck, that I was permitted to drive to and from work.

Even when new construction is not available due to economic doldrums, people and businesses are always in need of repair and upgrade services. It was always gratifying when I would receive a hearty thank-you from a homeowner relieved of the annoyance of a continually tripping circuit breaker, or from a downtown restaurant owner whose new pizza oven I just wired (often got a free meal as well). On my last electrician job before entering the USAF, I received extra pay for doing mostly service calls since most guys didn't want to bother with them. Studying for and passing the Master craftsman license for your trade allows you to own your own business and potentially make much more money than a typical engineer.

Although I enjoyed electrical work, my interest evolved toward electronics. Still not being thrilled about sitting in a college classroom for a couple years to qualify for a technician job, I enlisted in the U.S. Air Force where I landed a slot as an Air Traffic Control Radar Technician (AFSC 303x1). After six months of technical school at Keesler AFB, Mississippi, I spent the rest of my tour maintaining a couple mobile radar systems. They were comprised of both vacuum tube and semiconductor circuits, and had both analog and digital operator displays. We even had a secondary radar (IFF) that contained a magnetic core memory with a full 1 kByte capacity! During that time, I decided that learning to design the systems rather than just maintain them would be even more fun, so I began taking college courses in my journey toward a BSEE. Lo and behold, I discovered that school wasn't so bad after all, and I graduated from the University of Vermont at the top of my electrical engineering class. After finally achieving the pinnacle of my knowledge of electricity, I discovered over time that while the pay and prestige was better than the former career options, I never quite enjoyed myself as much once the responsibilities of meeting design/production schedules and performance expectations kicked in. With my background prior to graduating, I had to hit the ground running and never had the benefit of an internship or a dedicated mentor. At times, I wondered if I should have been satisfied to remain at the technician level where I still got to do fun work, but the responsibilities weren't as demanding and the hundreds and hundreds of overtime hours I worked would have been paid at time-and-a-half.

I am a huge advocate of pursuing your dream toward however you choose to spend your life, but also believe you should not rule out a "lesser" goal just because it might not have a college degree associated with it. The problem with opting for a career as something like an electrician or technician today is that the opportunity is not quite as available anymore. A huge portion of the construction jobs have been stolen by illegal immigrants who have undercut the wages of legal residents. When I lived in North Carolina, I observed that one would be hard pressed to find anything but an Illegal on a construction site - for all the trades. Spanish was the first language (usually the sole language) of workers and supervisors. Only the company owners were likely to speak well English [sic]. U.S. Americans could not get jobs as plumbers, electricians, carpenters, drywall or flooring installers, or landscapers. The scenario is duplicated all over the country. Forget, too, finding a job as a hotel housekeeper, cook, groundskeeper, farm hand, dish washer, or long list of other things that legal Americans would in fact do if given the chance. Instead, the government doles out welfare to keep the masses from rioting and blames the citizens for all the problems borne out by legislators' morally bankrupt policies. Regulations are made so crippling that companies can't afford to do business here and so send productive work overseas. Politicians who claim to be pulling for the little guy receive their funding from corporations whose heads are relocating to China and Timbuktu while not paying any taxes into the U.S. treasury (GE comes to mind, of course, but there are others). Corrupt union leaders publically protest the loss of production, but deal with the politicians behind closed doors and sell their members down the figurative river. Of course jobs requiring college degrees have also disappeared due to offshoring, so we're all screwed. It appears we have exactly the system that a majority voted for (Rs, Ds, and Is).

Meanwhile, the propaganda continues that you must go to college to succeed, while the People have been told there was nothing they could do about it for so long that most have given up trying. When your own government fights you every step of the way, what's the use? If you happen to be of a preferred color, gender, race, ethnicity, disability, or a myriad of other special categories, your fellow citizens will be "asked" to help you pay for your training, with no expectation that you will in any manner reimburse society or ever hold a job that exploits those skills. An entire industry is built around attracting people into training programs, then shepherding them through the process while obtaining a cut of the action. If you have the stomach for it, inquire at your city office about what is available, and then find out how it is paid for and get the stats on the people who have been chosen to participate. Funds not directly received from taxpayer-based revenue are donated by companies who get tax deductions for it. Abusers have figured out the system and profit handsomely from it.

A viral Judge Judy video (removed due to copyright infringement) was circulating this past summer where a guy was trying to justify that his stiffing his landlord for rent was justified because she wasn't paying her rent to the guy that owned the apartment he was sub-letting. During the course of the "trial," the guy revealed that he had already received more than $70,000 of taxpayer money over just three years to go to college to become a musician, while also collecting food and living expense payments. He saw absolutely nothing wrong with his point of view. "It's just me being me," was one of his brilliant retorts. Politicians have given us a country full of morons like that. Many of them can be found in tents in parks today protesting the very people who provide for their free ride.

I guess I've wandered a bit here, but my main thesis is that there is still plenty that can be done if upright citizens are willing to fight it. Tricks from the playbook of the other side are going to be required to turn this ship around. It will take organizing against the organizers and pushing back the frontier they have forged. The truth is that most of the people fighting against you are merely useful idiots of the organizers. As long as they know the authorities - some high offices - will tolerate their thuggery, nothing will get better. What it will take is massive feedback to your representatives that you are sick of being punished for expecting to be given due recognition and rewarded (not by them) for your belief that as a citizen you are entitled per our Constitution to the pursuit - not guarantee - of happiness. What kind of happiness do you think the U.S. Constitution refers to: the false happiness achieved by dragging others down to your level and taking from the producers, or the happiness achieved by elevating yourself above the riffraff and societal leaches?



Posted July 15, 2019
(updated from original post on 12/1/2011)

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