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Why he gave up on the corporate world, at 27, to become a renovator

Marc is a student in the Building Renovation Technology program at George Brown College. His essay on why he wants to build a life and a career in the trades is inspiring: but he also has some words of warning for the industry - we have to do better at recruiting the next generation.


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June 11, 2013 by Steve Payne

By Marc Esposito

The foundation of our industry is crumbling and we need to do something about it.

It’s not the quality of work of trades people that’s the issue, it’s the quantity of quality tradespeople that is lacking.

As an unsure, wide-eyed teenager making my way through high school, I was steered unanimously in the direction of a university education. To be honest, no real alternatives were ever given. The word “trades” was a four-letter word around my guidance office and, therefore, a career in the trades was never really given much thought.

My situation is not unique. When decision day comes for many young Canadians, when they are about to leave high school and decide what they would like to pursue for the rest of their lives, they are in increasing numbers, opting out of choosing a skilled trades as a career option. But why? And how can we change this?

There exists a stigma in this country around the trades. The notion that, “If you’re working with your hands, you’re clearly not using the tool in your head” is prevalent in our society. But it’s so absolutely inaccurate, it’s laughable.

At the age of 27, I decided to give up a “career” in the corporate world to pursue a life working in the trades. I applied for and was accepted into George Brown College’s Building Renovation Technology program. When I got there, I realized I was not alone. I was not the only person who had pursued a 9 to 5 career, because that’s what we were supposed to do. Only to realize a few years later that we were disenchanted, disengaged and completely bored out of our minds.

Over the course of my very short career in the corporate world I was constantly busy, but was never really doing anything meaningful or substantive. I always had deadlines to meet, but nothing to show for it once those deadlines were met. I soon realized I needed to make a change. I wanted a career where I could affect change, a career that would give me something tangible as a result of my hard work. I wanted a carer that would force me to think quickly and strategically and a career that was more tactile and hands on, but one that was just as cerebral as it was physical.

For me, that career is a skilled trade. I spend almost 10 years after graduating high school figuring out that the trades were my best career option? Why did it take a decade? Because not one while I was trying to figure out what to do with the rest of my life were the trades ever preented as a viable option. University was presented as the best chance at landing “a good job,” which meant a job with benefits, a secure salary and job security.

Although it might be true that establishing a career in the corporate world has its perks, it has also it’s downfalls. The notion of job security, as we saw during the last recession, is a fallacy. Furthermore, the road to corporate success often involves a lot of office politics. Not that job security and an absence of politics is guaranteed within the trades, but I would argue that a skilled trades person has more control over these issues than does someone working in an office for a corporation.

I’d like to think my classmates and I are part of a new generation of trades professionals – we’re part of a group that is educated, ambitious and willing to work hard. We’re interested in pursuing trades because of what they can offer us personally and professionally. They can offer a creative outlet, an opportunity for entrpreneurship and a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment not often found within the walls of a cubicle.

But how do we get to the next generation of young tradespeople, without waiting for them to spend 10 years living someone else’s idea of a life? How do we get young adults coming out of high school to realize that carpenters, plumbers and electricians are just as important to our communities as doctors, lawyers and engineers?

As a student in my second and final year of my renovation technology program, after having worked as a plumber’s apprentice and having obtained some experience on the tools in other areas of residential construction, I know first-hand how rewarding this work can be. As each job progressed, and as I became more comfortable and skilled on the tools, I realized not only the impact I could have but also the personal benefits and satisfaction of the skills I was learning.

We as tradespeople, as renovators, as homebuilders, need to do a better job of educating young people about the opportunities in our industry. We need to promote the benefits and potential opportunities that exist without the skilled trades. The sense of satisfaction that can come at the end of a long day when you look at what you’ve done and say to yourself, “I built that.” And the skilled trades are vitally important to our communities and our economy: after all, as a wise man once said to me, “You can’t outsource your plumber!”

We need intelligent, motivated and ambitious people to choose the trades as an option for their careers. We need to keep building up the next generation of tradespeople. If we don’t rewire our thought processes and change the way we think about promoting the trades, then we are doing our jobs wrong. We strive to build properly for our clients. Why don’t we build our industry properly for ourselves?


Steve Payne

Steve Payne

Steve Payne is the editor of Canadian Contractor magazine
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3 Comments » for Why he gave up on the corporate world, at 27, to become a renovator
  1. I would agree with you. I was an engineer that went back into the trades. My problem was that no one would hire me because I had an engineering degree. As soon as they would hear I use to be a engineer they wouldnt call back. So I started my own renovation company and never looked back

  2. I like what you say but so often the trades are looked down upon as being dirty, the guys are pigs and make a mess of everything, TV does its best to show poor workmanship and the list goes on. I have met so many trades men that do nothing but grumble when asked about there job. If fact many tell there kids not to get into the trades. My dad was a bricklayer and I worked for him for awhile as a helper. Knew I did not want that, so I choose carpentry, now self employed and not looking back. There was a time say 8-10 years ago I had a lot of friends in high tech making lots more money then me, now well……….not sure what happened to some of them but I know a few lost jobs and now are struggling because of there education or lack of it for new technology.

  3. Eric says:

    I could not agree more…I am 3 weeks into my full time career as a home renovator. I spent 16 years in the corporate world giving out home reno tips to all my co-workers. I was asked to do things I did not agree with and the rest is history.

    I finally built up enough start up capital to go renovating full time…now with the giant flood in the GTA I’m booked up for the next 6 months. I enjoy my work and the client will benefit from it. If you enjoy your job, you’ll never work another day in your life.