Trades Career Pathways & Advice
After everything you’ve studied your love might still be for hands-on, practical activities - and that’s where a trade job can come in.
People working in ‘trades’ are skilled, qualified people who provide highly sought after practical services. Some of the jobs that fall under trades include plumbers, electricians, builders, mechanics and carpenters.
All of these roles are essential to society – plumbers, for example, are always in demand. Currently there is an estimated skills shortage of 30,000 people within the sector, so plumbing can be extremely lucrative. There is also a deficit of qualified electricians and carpenters in the UK.
Plumbers are involved in repairing, implementing and improving our plumbing systems, whether at home, in business or as part of the country’s general infrastructure. You’ll be repairing broken water mains, adding toilets, sinks and showers to new houses and even be involved in making sure water supplies flow regularly to us all. If you think you’d enjoy a hands-on, physical job and want to spend your days helping people, a career in the plumbing industry could be for you.
Electricians and electrical workers are skilled, in-demand members of the construction industry. You might work on complex developments such as shopping malls, sports stadiums and hospitals, wiring them for electricity and making sure everything is safe. You’re also likely to be involved in installing data cabling, fibre-optic systems and internet lines.
Mechanics are involved in the repair, construction and maintenance of motor vehicles. This is a physical and at times dirty job, which will require you to analyse and problem solve issues with cars, order spare parts and fit them, and carry out safety testing and basic repairs such as changing tyres and oil.
Mechanics can specialise on a particular make or model of vehicle, work for a particular supplier or even across many different areas. It’s not unusual for mechanics to set up as self-employed after gaining experience in the industry.
Carpenters and joiners work with wood to build beautiful pieces of furniture, vital fittings on building sites and joists and components of all sorts of structures. This is the perfect industry for someone with creative design skills who can also consider functionality.
Finally, builders construct everything from spare rooms in your parents’ house to record breaking skyscrapers. This is an industry that requires you to learn technical skills on the job. You can gain a trade in a particular specialist area – bricklaying, pointing – or as a general building contractor involved in moving heavy goods. The construction and building industry is a major source of employment in the UK, providing a wide range of career opportunities. With a degree, you can come into this industry at a senior level.
If you are a practical person and looking for a useful career that uses your hands, a career within the trades sector could be for you. You’ll need to be good at planning and be accurate, have a natural affinity for problem solving and want to work out in the world rather than in an office.
Where you opt to work depends on your specific skills. Those in trades jobs work both inside and outdoors, with hours flexible depending on the project and the deadlines they are working towards.
Many of those in trades roles work freelance or on one-off jobs or short-term contracts, working on particular projects to completion. As your skills will be in demand from both industry and individuals, you should never be short of work.
As an electrician, you will need to be able to follow technical drawings and building plans, understand wiring and be able to work in a confined environment at times.
Carpentry and joinery are skilled occupations that will require you to have excellent design, creative, planning skills, as well as attention to detail. As you will often work on your own, you will need excellent motivation and leadership skills too.
Across the board, and in whichever area you choose, you’ll be a skilled tradesman who will continually update your skills and experience as new ways to work are developed. You will be an excellent problem solver, who is able to clearly and quickly diagnose and fix problems.
You’ll also need to have excellent customer facing skills and be able to communicate effectively to succeed in any trade role.
Trade jobs are often very physical, meaning you will need to be able to work long hours. Teamwork and communication are also important as you will often be working in potentially dangerous situations with heavy materials. If you specialise in a particular trade within building, you will also need good technical skills and professional qualifications.
Working in the trades industry is often customer facing, which means that a variety of skills are essential. They include:
- Health and safety
- Problem Solving
Progression within the trades sector means managing teams, taking on more extensive projects, and potentially setting up your own business. You’ll need to be driven and have an entrepreneurial mindset for the latter. If you’re in a company, a clear progression path is likely to be available to you.
Becoming a member of a professional body will help you to improve your skills over time. You should also continue to grow your skills throughout your employment by taking professional qualifications, whichever trade you are working in.
Earnings in the trades vary widely from industry to industry and between different types of role. Depending on experience you could be earning minimum wage or earning up as high as a six-figure salary.
A labourer will earn an average of around £15,000 starting out, but salaries can increase rapidly depending on experience and if you learn a specific skill or trade. According to Payscale, the average salary for a builder in the UK is £11.54 per hour – or around £22,800 annually.
Newly qualified electricians can earn around £17,000 a year, but this can rise quickly with experience to more than £38,000.
Once qualified as a mechanic, you can expect to earn around £18,000 to £22,000 a year, with the potential to earn £30,000 as you continue to gain experience.
Trainee plumbers earn between £13,000 and £15,000 a year. Once qualified, you’re likely to earn more than £20,000 a year, whilst experienced plumbers with a network of contacts can earn upwards of £35,000. Depending on the company you work for, you might work shifts and receive an hourly rate – according to PayScale, the average hourly rate for a plumber is £11.16 per hour – although hourly overtime pay could be as much as £24.55.
Newly qualified carpenters can earn around £15,000 a year, but this can also rise quickly to around £25,000. Highly experienced carpenters and joiners can easily earn over £40,000.
Qualification requirements & subjects to study
If you want to pursue a career in trades after university, your degree probably won’t have given you the exact practical skills needed. You will need to take up a professional qualification in your chosen trade, for example at a local technical college, in order to get the practical skills needed for the job. Because every area of this industry is specialised, you will need to pass a professional qualification in order to secure a permanent role.
How to get there
You’ll need practical experience in order to learn what those in your chosen trade do day to day, so contact companies directly and ask if you can shadow a member of staff or come in for work experience during your free time.
For carpentry, you will also need to demonstrate that you have the design skills needed for a role. You need a high level of skill to become a carpenter, so experience within a design studio or in a workshop will be very beneficial.
Once trained, you should also be able to find shift work through recruitment agencies. You will often be employed on a job by job basis. You should also be aware that casual work in areas including building and carpentry is easier to find during the summer months.
Later, you may decide that postgraduate qualifications in specific areas are what is needed to progress in your career.
Association of Plumbing and Heating Contractors Limited (APHC)
Chartered Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineering
Electrical Contractors' Association (ECA)
National Federation of Builders (NFB)
Builders Merchants Federation
British Woodworking Federation
Institute of Carpenters
Chartered Association of Building Engineers (CABE)
Chartered Institute of Building
Federation of Master Builders
The Guild of Builders and Contractors