Each New Year brings new evaluations of life direction and purpose, and with this question comes the issue of careers to the forefront.

Too many of us go to college, graduate with a degree in something we care passionately about, and are left out in the cold as we watch friends and loved ones ascend in their careers while we struggle in jobs unrelated to our chosen fields.

Perhaps the model for career development is all wrong. Maybe rather than focusing on what we love, we should focus on what is practical: concrete, actual skills that could sustain us if we were stripped of modern technologies and forced to sustain ourselves while living deep in the forest.

Or perhaps, more simply, we might decide to pursue a career that doesn’t require a four-year degree.

Here are a few out-of-the-box ideas in skilled trades that may surprise you, if you’re at a crossroads and in search of a job that requires the use of your hands.

1. Learn a Skilled Trade

The reason many people decide to attend college is because of the possibility of greater earning potential. However, what they often fail to take into account is the amount of debt you’ll be required to pay back in the form of student loans.

The Idaho Department of Labor’s estimates that the cost of a U.S. bachelor’s degree  is up to $127,000! That’s a lot of money in exchange for no guarantee of a job that will allow you to pay that money back.

However, skilled trades like construction, plumbing, and electrical work are always in demand and also have good earning potential, to boot.

For example, if you’re interested in a career in construction, there are a number of different occupations to choose from: bricklaying, plastering, carpentry, stone masonry, laborer, roofer, and construction vehicle operator are a few of the titles you could choose from.  

Speaking of construction, Construction Jobs recently shared their six best projected trade jobs for 2018: ironworker, brick mason, electrician, cement mason, heavy equipment operator, and carpenter.

Moreover, if you choose to advance in your area of specialization, you could always become a construction manager or pursue further education in engineering or architecture.

2. Get a Job with the Postal Service

This one may come as a surprise, but a career with the U.S. Postal Service has many hidden perks.

You may be surprised to learn, for example, that there are career development options besides being a mail carrier or package sorter, such as online learning from the National Center for Employee Development (NCED), joining the USPS’s New Supervisor Program (NSP), or pursuing the Advanced or Executive Leadership Program.

Plus, mail delivery is a service that knows no foreseeable end. And USPS benefits are known to be excellent, with a strong health insurance program, a pension plan, a commuter program, and generous annual and sick leave.

Plus, who wouldn’t love the chance to go outside, drive your own delivery truck, and get to know local neighborhoods — all while you’re getting paid?

These days, the prevalence of social media can sometimes feel overwhelming. We all need to be reminded of the power of community and local connectedness in our everyday lives — and who better to do that than your local postal delivery person?

3. Try Driving for a Living

If you’re up in the air, career-wise, or you’re simply hoping to make a bit of money on the side, consider driving for Uber or Lyft.

Self-employed drivers do need to pay quarterly taxes as freelance individuals, but this kind of financial planning can be helpful to teaching you how to manage your finances if you ever want to start your own business as a skilled tradesperson.  

Plus, driving for a living can introduce you to a wide variety of people — some of whom might even help you in your career! Let’s not forget the power of casual networking to open doors in places we may not expect it: it’s been estimated that over 85 percent of open positions are filled via social and professional networking!

If you really enjoy the flexibility of driving people around on your own schedule and being on the open road, you may eventually decide to become a truck driver and transport freight around the country.

The pay is decent, and you’ll have the opportunity to see more of the country than many will see in a lifetime.  

Just be aware that self-driving trucks and cars are coming — though Tesla isn’t going into production of electric semi trucks until 2019. They may even be vulnerable to hacking, but not for a while yet. But even with self-driving vehicles, companies are likely to want human drivers in charge of operating them, for liability reasons.

For example, say someone hacks into your vehicle while you are on the road. Vehicles will need to have safeguards to switch them back to manual driving mode, and that can’t happen without someone in the driver’s seat at all times.  


If you’re interested in taking the leap toward a skilled trade profession but don’t know where to begin, consider becoming an apprentice or attending a vocational school that teaches the essential skills you will need to be successful in your chosen field.

Try talking to others in online forums or through community classes on the subject to get a sense of what you need to do. Look into resources at your local community college, library, or department of labor to get a sense of what’s out there and who can talk to you more about your field of interest.

If you’re curious, ask around. You may be surprised at what you discover. The Department of Labor has a number of resources for people interested in apprenticeships with local businesses or independent contractors.

The Nexstar Legacy Foundation recently launched an interactive quiz that allows people to answer a few questions and receive more information on career opportunities that are best-suited for them and their unique interests and aptitudes.

Who knows: you may surprise yourself by what you discover!

Written By
Daphne Stanford is a DJ for Radio Boise. She writes poetry, nonfiction, and lyric essays. Other ways she enjoys spending her time include hiking, piano, singing at inappropriate times, and good conversation with friends & family. Follow her on Twitter or Facebook