As parents, we want the best for our kids. We want them to have things we never had. For many of us, that’s the gift of quality education.
A college education is a noble pursuit and a pathway to many professions. But is it the only way to a successful career, financial independence, and long term happiness?
Ken Rusk is an Ohio-based entrepreneur who built a business from scratch with no formal college education. A curious encounter during high school led to a life journey working with his hands. Ken is also the author of “Blue Collar Cash: Love Your Work, Secure Your Future, and Find Happiness for Life.”
Andy Hill recently sat down with Ken to talk about his journey, why six-figure trade jobs might be a better career path for many, the pressure to go to college, and what parents can do to help their children if they are drawn to a trade.
Ken's No College Background
Ken grew up in Northeast Ohio. He had always felt a desire to do something with his life early on. Near his high school campus was a fence that separated the school from local businesses. He and his buddies would occasionally cut through a hole in the fence to make snack runs at the local gas station.
He always wondered what went on in the business so he walked inside one day to find out.
It turned out to be a business that worked on foundations of buildings and houses. Ken asked if they were hiring, and he found himself with his first job at 15 years old. Ken spent time digging ditches during the summer and working part-time in their office while school was in session.
Ken’s Dad, a former marine, used to say, “If you want something, go for it.” That’s exactly what Ken did.
He pictured the kind of life he wanted. At that point, he wanted a car to get around and spending money for dates with his girlfriend. Ken knew that the only way to make that happen right then was to make money. And that’s what he did.
Ken continued to work for the company throughout high school. The business continued to grow and expand outside of the Northeast Ohio region. As the company grew, they sent Ken around the country, opening up branch offices for them.
He did sign up for school initially, but always knew it wasn’t for him. He dropped out.
Ken liked to make money and accomplish life goals. He realized all of that was possible within the framework of the work he was already doing.
He assumed his dad would be disappointed, but that was the furthest thing from the truth. His dad told him, “Your path is your path. If your passion is doing what you’re doing, then you should go after it then.”
Blue Collar Work
For Ken, there’s something different about having a blue collar job. There's personal satisfaction with a job well done. You can see a tangible result.
Ken calls it a “step back” moment. That’s where you can do the work, take a step back, and realize, “I just did that. I created something.” You are proud of the work that you do when you use your own hands and feet to make it happen. You don’t always find that in other jobs and careers.
The College Decision for an 18-Year Old
18-year-old kids are tasked with making some of the most important decisions of their lives. The decision of what career path to pursue and whether to attend college or not has long term consequences. With college, there’s also a cost factor that’s hard to ignore. Parents and teens need to start saving for college early or take on considerable student loan debt (or both).
Teens and parents need to ask themselves a question: Am I just choosing college because it's the norm?
Ken asks, “Who decided that going to college is the only way?”
What if you have a kid that’s hands-on? Why not let them go for it and try a trade? There’s nothing wrong with someone wanting to be a mechanic. In five years, there’s a chance they could own their own business and even have employees to manage.
Ken talks about “comfort, peace, and freedom.” He says, “If you can get to the place where you can look in the mirror and say I am comfortable, peaceful, and I’m free, it doesn’t matter how you get there. It doesn’t matter what you do for a living as much as what you do with what you do for a living.
Pursuing a trade can lead to more lucrative opportunities too.
Alternatives to College
Ken says that there are three other education paths to consider when planning out your future.
- Tech schools – Available in most cities across the U.S.
- Trade schools – They are begging for students because the workforce is retiring, and there’s no one coming behind.
- 10,000-hour principle – The third option is something Ken believes strongly in because he lived it. That’s the 10,000-hour principle. He says there’s an old saying that it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill. So, pick up a hammer and start working right away. You don’t have to wait, and on-the-job training is one of the best ways to learn how to do something right, especially if you end up working alongside seasoned professionals. You’ll be lightyears ahead of people who choose other paths.
The reality is that there’s no way that every kid could go off to college, graduate, and get an office job. Who would do all of the blue-collar work that’s required in the world today? Construction? Plumbing? HVAC?
Six-Figure Trade Jobs
There are so many different trade jobs available today for high school students to pursue. Ken says the demand is so high that kids can make great money, and in a few years may be able to start their own business doing what they love. Simple blue collar work can easily turn into a six-figure trade job quickly. Here are some of the trade fields that Ken suggests looking at to see if there’s a passion.
- Stone masonry
- Steel Industry
- Finished carpentry
And if you think you’re not cut out to run your own business, think again. According to Ken, the barriers to owning a company have all but disappeared with the rise in technology.
You can perform tasks like payroll and ordering inventory from the same phone you use to text family and friends. If you can sell yourself and build a reputation, you can quickly make a ton of money with your own business. Ken says people think it’s a lot harder to get started than it actually is.
Experimenting and Financial Independence
A growing number of people are trying to grow their income so they can leave their 9 to 5 jobs and do things that bring more joy to their lives. Plenty of people wish they had chosen a different career path or took time to figure out what makes them the happiest.
There’s an opportunity for high school graduates to choose to experiment now. To spend time figuring out what they really want out of life. Why not take some chances now before finding yourself ten years into a desk job that you don’t love?
Ken’s company currently has over 200 employees. When they hire new employees, they are led through a simple exercise meant to get them thinking about their own life. They are asked to sit and are given a large sheet of paper and some crayons. They are asked to draw out their life the way they see it and want it to be. Ken says the goal is for them to make sure they know what they want their life to look like long-term.
- Where do you want to live?
- What kind of house do you want to have?
- Do you want pets?
- Do you want kids?
- What kind of car do you want to drive?
Ken says they try to get them to draw in great detail what they want their life to look like.
“If you start with a reasonable picture of what you want, your brain has a way of attracting you to getting those things. It’s an unspoken motivator,” says Ken. If they draw it clear enough, they always seem to get to where they want in life.
Despite all the talk of getting a blue-collar job early on, Ken isn’t anti-college. He says that if you know for sure what you want to do and it requires school, then the decision is pretty clear.
He just wonders how many kids are choosing college based on parental and societal expectations. There’s a lot of kids who are told by parents, teachers, and counselors that they have to go to college.
When it comes to college, you should have a passion for something if you’re going to spend the money and time required to earn a degree. If that’s not you, there may be better options for you.
Related Article: 5 Ways Parents Can Help Their Kids Graduate Without Student Loans
The College Experience
What about the so-called “college experience” that so many parents desire for their children?
For Ken, when people see the things he’s accomplished and achieved, he’s never had anyone ask him what experiences in college led to his success.
What experiences are people referring to? Independence? Self-sustainability? Socialization? Ken says these are all achievable with a blue collar career too.
Ken doesn’t miss what he never had, but he recognizes that’s not everyone’s experience. That’s just him. There are tons of people who spend four years in college and have the best experiences. That’s good for them.
What Parents Can do for Their Teens Who are Drawn to the Trades
According to Ken, the best thing is for teens to examine all of the different trades to see if there’s a passion for any of them. Look at all of the possibilities and look at what people actually do for a living. Sometimes, what you think a job looks like is very different from what is really involved.
Working a trade doesn’t always mean working for someone else, either. It can be a chance to control your own schedule and life.
If a teen finds something they like, parents should allow them to dabble in it to see if it makes sense. See if it sparks something more.
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CARPE DIEM QUOTE
“The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.“Albert Einstein
What do you think about your teenager not going to college and pursuing a trade?
Please let us know in the comments below.