The Sexy Electrician
Electrician or Web Developer?
Which job do you consider sexier: independent electrician or Google web developer?
There are lots of similarities in the thought processes needed to achieve at both jobs. Both require understanding of the inner workings of machines and systems. They rely on real-world practice and demand continuous learning and a maker mindset—willingness to tinker, try, make mistakes, and improve.
They also boast high earning potential. Entrepreneurial electricians and experienced web developers can pull in over $100,000, depending on where they live.
Yet you think web developer at Google is a sexier job, don’t you?
It makes sense. We tend to judge jobs based on outward factors, like the container the job comes in. Google is a “cool” container. So is “high tech.” We make broad-sweeping assumptions about a person’s skills and intelligence based on the package their job comes in.
Web developers are smarter than electricians, right?
We assume that most tradespeople go straight into the workforce after high school. That’s only partially true. According to the most recent US Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers, about 54.2% of of electricians have some level of college experience. Current numbers show that almost a third of web developers do not have four-year college degrees either.
High-tech companies like Google and IBM are realizing that their most productive problem solvers don’t all have college degrees. They are actively hiring workers without them.
Electrician and web developer are problem solving jobs. The growth outlook for both career paths is high, from 14% for electricians to 20% for web developers through the next five years. As life becomes more automated, this high-level, creative problem solving is a coveted and high-demand skill.
So both professions require problem solving skills that can be developed in many contexts besides college. Yet, fewer people are setting out to become electricians.
Is it because this job doesn’t seem sexy enough?
Consider this: The independent electrician is also an entrepreneur. He sells, consults, manages employees, and markets. The underlying mindset and skill sets are similar to those of Richard Branson and all the other entrepreneurs who dropped out of school to solve problems and start companies.
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Almost 32% of electricians have “some college.” They graduated from high school, went on to college, and for some reason didn’t finish.
What might be the reasons so many electricians didn’t finish college, or even apply in the first place?
Many of the tradespeople I’ve met are the most brilliant creative thinkers that I know. Again, this makes sense because creative thinking is problem solving. Creative thinkers don’t always thrive in school, especially those inclined to be “makers,” those who like to tinker and solve problems with their hands as opposed to on paper or on a screen. It is rare that school has enough of these authentic, high-level thinking challenges.
People often get through their K-12 years and think college will finally engage their problem solving strengths. But then they find that it’s more of the same type of book work that they haven’t loved all along. They realize there are more options than a straight path through college and they drop out to work. They find that the challenge of working, managing their business, and learning on the job is fulfilling and engaging, and they never look back to return to school.
A Real-Life Electrician Story
Take New York electrician Tim Bland. He told me, “When I am working in walls I don’t bother looking. I can see with my fingers.” He loves his work, especially when new challenges arise. He keeps a box of old parts in his truck, materials to use to improvise and develop new solutions.
The kid who spent hours building forts in the backyard and taking apart mechanical lock sets in his 115-year-old family home was recognized for his creative problem solving strengths at home. Once he got into middle school and then high school, he was encouraged by his teachers in wood shop, metal shop, and plastics. Teachers saw and supported his potential. While the other kids were doing beginner projects, they let Tim make more advanced products and serve as a teacher’s assistant. This was a case where a student did have the opportunity to apply his problem solving skills at school.
Tim was a volleyball star in high school and kept his grades up just enough so he could go on to play on a high-level community college team. After a couple of years, he decided to leave school for the workforce. Over time, he decided to start his own electrical business.
“I love electrical work because you have to do woodworking, plastering, painting, and the core of it all is giving people ideas and helping them in their lives. Doing such meaningful, challenging work makes every day worth living,” he told me.
Because of the way Tim set up his life, he’s been able to be there for his family, always involved in his kids’ activities throughout their lives. When his wife had a home daycare, he’d help out at lunchtime and play with the kids.
Problem Solving is Sexy
We need problem solvers like Tim Bland, whether they are electricians, plumbers, web developers, or inventors. Such creative problem solving is a key set of skills that differentiates those who will thrive in the current and future economy.
How might we learn to better spot the applied creative problem solving skills that people use every day?
When we shift our paradigm and recognize people from a young age by their underlying thinking strengths, we make better use of the diverse problem solving potential that our world needs. If we could do this on a societal level, we’d have a broader array of sexy jobs because we’d value them by those desirable underlying strengths instead of the containers through which they are applied.
Kathryn Haydon helps you maximize your creative strengths so you can do your best work. Through keynotes, workshops, and consulting, she trains individuals, leaders, and teams to find the unique spark that leads to deep engagement and productivity.