Rosie the Six-Figure-Earning Mechanic

With women's salaries and respect in the field on the rise, maybe it's time to consider a career in the trades.

Published May 27, 2008 1:58PM (EDT)

As much as I'm enjoying my gig at Broadsheet, I might just have to give up writing and learn how to be a truck mechanic. According to the Calgary Herald, Patricia Nelson, who's about my age and fixes trucks for a living, hasn't made less than $100,000 a year in the past six. And other female trades professionals are also reportedly raking it in. Says Peggy Maesar, a human resources director for a construction firm, "The trades are a heck of a career right now, not only in terms of benefits and wages, but respect. It has changed a lot in the past few years in terms of being considered a very valid career."

Nelson and other tradeswomen are trying to get that message out to young women, appearing at conferences and skills competitions to talk about the advantages of going into their line(s) of work. Given the pay, benefits and lack of student loans, the trades can be an incredibly lucrative career -- and since there are never enough skilled workers to go around, companies have finally begun to realize that women are "an untapped resource."

"Trades for a long time was one of those second-class ideas because everybody wanted to send their kids to university," Nelson says. "Now the trades don't have to be a second option if they can't afford university. It might be one thing they could look at first."

I love hearing this, both because I hate snobbery and because I believe totally in doing what you're good at and/or what you love, preferably both. With what we know about "multiple intelligences" these days, it follows that plenty of kids whose parents want them to go to college and get desk jobs would probably be more fulfilled doing skilled labor. And even if a kid doesn't particularly love working with her hands or building things or taking things apart to see how they work, how many business majors truly believe that running a company is their passion? The ones I went to school with were on that track to make money, period. So shouldn't a paid apprenticeship in a highly remunerative trade be at least as attractive an option as spending six figures on a liberal arts education, only to graduate and get a $25,000-a-year, entry-level job?

Don't get me wrong -- I'm a huge fan of liberal arts education, for those who are so inclined. But not everyone is so inclined, and it's disheartening to see those who aren't so inclined pushed into schools, jobs and loan payments they never wanted just because of classist beliefs about who should go into the trades. I'm glad to see this is changing, and especially glad to see that young women are being encouraged to explore their options. It makes no sense to me that staying home changing shitty diapers and wiping up barf for no pay is considered by some to be the most "feminine" job out there, while being a highly compensated plumber is considered somehow unladylike.

By Kate Harding

Kate Harding is the author of Asking For It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture--and What We Can Do About It, available from Da Capo Press in August 2015. Previously, she collaborated with Anna Holmes, Amanda Hess, and a cast of thousands on The Book of Jezebel, and with Marianne Kirby on Lessons from the Fat-o-Sphere. You might also remember her as the founding editor of Shapely Prose (2007-2010). Kate's essays have appeared in the anthologies Madonna & Me, Yes Means Yes, Feed Me, and Airmail: Women of Letters. She holds an M.F.A. in fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts and a B.A. in English from University of Toronto, and is currently at work on a Ph.D. in creative writing from Bath Spa University

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