Trades vs. Professions

In the 1700s and 1800s, bold adventurers sailed around the world in what were then called ships but what would, by today’s standards, be considered little more than small wooden boats.

Many of these men accumulated vast wealth, buying and selling spices, teas, coffee and other in demand commodities. In spite of this wealth, these traders were not accepted into European society. The reason for this was simple. In the high society of the day, it did not matter how much wealth one possessed. What mattered was whether or not one had to actually do something (i.e. work) to acquire their wealth.

We have managed to recreate this concept, one which the founders soundly rejected. We have always differentiated between professions, in which one wears a suit and works at a desk, and trades in which the accepted attire is a T-shirt and jeans and the work actually makes one sweat. Sweating itself in not considered a bad thing as long as the sweating is the result of some form of working out, preferably in an air-conditioned gym.

Of course, our high society is unlike that of pre-industrial revolution Europe in that the only requirement for admission is wealth. Any boor can join if he’s rich enough. But the idea that one must have a degree to be an intelligent person and that working in the trades is a less than desirable fate has become embedded in our culture.



  • Bob Itnyre says:

    David you are so right. I see it all the time in the short shrift (especially monetarily) that the shop gets as compared to the “scholastic courses”. The kids pick up on it in that they all want to go to college and some just are not collage material, but going to college is the conditioned response.. I’ve had kids from my classes who have gone into the building trades that are gainfully employed and love their work.Two that come to mind are plumbers. They both tell me how satisfying it is to go to a customer and be welcomed as a savior, plus the money is good too. Many of my student who went on to college are unemployed and are facing bills. But you know what’s funny? I see kids, years later,(both those who went to college and those who are in the building trades) and they all still have their projects from shop but few if any have their book reports or term papers. Also, during my prep periods I always have students who want to come to my shop and work on their projects. I find it very annoying when the term “technology” is used only in reference to a computer. A stone arrow head is technology. Computers are part of technology but not the whole thing. Thanks for reading this, Bob

  • Larry Wangerin says:

    Agree – and engineering ain’t the same either. My son finds himself offering simple solutions to problems that seem to defy the complexity of the engineering mind; but luckily are accepted. Some scientists are not much more advanced, either, when it comes to hands on. My dad was a farm kid and I envy him that to this day. He could build anything and fix anything (it was a hard life for all of that, though). His college degree, E.E., 1929 was in the days of real iron foundry experience, real machine shop experience and surveying; they were prepared to build power plants. Thirty years later only Industrial engineers ever saw the machine shop and foundry. After that it was computers and watch the instructor. One needs to cut one’s fingers a few times on a cutting tool to fully appreciate the reality of things. I know of kids expert on computers but afraid of starting or even using a lawn mower, if they even have a yard. Guess who doe the lawn – Mom! There have been some gains.

  • Chuck R says:

    Is it?

  • Larry says:

    Suit vs tradesman. My Dad a union bricklayer… Should have seen the day the moron Dr of education called my Dad common labor.. My Dad, a normally soft spoken man, about went over the desk after that pin head! I had my hands full holding him back!
    The feather in my cap.. He needs me and my kind more than I need him! I know how to change a light bulb and all that other stuff they have no clue about.. Funny how much they pay for stuff so simple to do.

  • John Gresko says:

    Hi David,
    I am in agreement with you. I have had a few good clients over the years who did seem to appreciate my efforts and results and who did not act like they were above me so to speak. I have had many of the other type who, at least in my opinion, seemed to think of me as the hired help. There is not much we can do about it but as tradesman, craftsman, we just endure. It is hard to just say, its just business, as we tend to put a little bit of ourselves into our work to ensure happy clients.

  • James Richey says:

    I have had the best of both worlds. I had a sixth-grade shop teacher, Mr Fink, who in my eyes stood 10 feet tall and I still sharpen my chisels the way he taught me, among other things. I landed a job while still in Jr. High as an apprentice to a cabinet maker firm making wing ribs for Stearman airplanes that were army training planes during WWII. My job was to sand them after machining and all my fingernails were sanded off too. My ambition was to get to be a foreman in woodworking and my mother said that was a good idea after I graduated from college. Well, every where I applied I was told I was over-qualified for that job but I finally found one with Brunswick in the school furniture division. They were replacing their old line foremen with college grads. We had to wear white shirts and ties so that we would stand out on the shop floor. We were expected to develop our skills in all phases of factory management. We attended training class two nights each week in industrial engineering. Like the others, I moved around in the company and on to other jobs. Incidentally, every one they hired at that time went on to bigger and better executive positions.

    Fast forward a few years after several moves and I found myself out of a job. With very little capital I started my own furniture company contracting work for others. By good fortune and good luck I designed and landed a contract for 40,000 children’s rockers for Kmart.. I was off and running. Next I designed a line of painted wood dinettes for the department store trade and hit the jackpot with paint when everybody else was usung either chrome or early American stained finish. This required a bigger space than the 10,000 S/F place I started in. There was an empty 100,000 S/F factory in town that went bankrupt where I had worked before losing my job. The banks were happy to find somebody who needed it and I made them a deal they didn’t refuse. It took until noon one Saturday to move all our equipment from 10K S/F to the 100K S/F and then the work began.
    I wore a multitude of hats for which my education and factory experience prepared me. I enjoyed the factory management and successfully built a company employing many people and creating a market for a product. Yes, in my old age I can look back happily knowing that I have had the best of both worlds but I still enjoy working with my hands better than struggling trying to write this on a computer!

  • Doug Darter says:

    A suit is nothing more than the appropriate uniform for an office job. School does not make you smart it allows you to learn new things but that can also be accomplished without school. There are snobs in every group. I just don’t allow them into my life. A person can choose who to associate with and who not to. How someone else acts is a reflection on them not me.

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