Here’s what they say:
Cameron, who is twenty-three, went to college like most graduates from his suburban high school. But he felt aimless. A construction job expo led him to his current career as a field engineer for a large company. He spends his days making sure all subcontractors are on track at the giant arts center they’re building. And he makes sure everything gets built exactly as the designs specify. It’s interesting, rewarding work, Cameron says.
Get a Degree
Cameron is back in college now, getting a business degree. He knows he can use his education to further his career in construction.
Look for Industries With Growth Potential
Cameron knows there will always be buildings to build, renovate, knock down, and rebuild.
Learn to Do Useful Things
Sinue, who is twenty-four, took every drafting and other practical course his high school offered. A gifted student, his teachers wanted him to go to a traditional college on scholarship, but Sinue was more interested in a hands-on career. After high school, he went to a technical college.
Don’t Be Afraid to Get Dirty
While taking technical courses, Sinue started pouring concrete, a job that paid more than the entry-level jobs his friends found in retail.
While pouring concrete, Sinue’s supervisors realized he’s bilingual. A legal immigrant from Mexico, he speaks Spanish and English fluently. He was promoted and rose quickly through management. He’s now the safety engineer at a large job site.
Follow a Sibling
Aldo, who is twenty, followed his brother Sinue into the construction business when he saw how well it paid. He’s a carpenter, and he’s also on a fast track.
Get Along With People
Aldo’s supervisor, who also knows Sinue, said the men have advanced mainly because they get along well with everyone. Being good-natured is even more valuable than speaking Spanish, the supervisor says.
When Aldo started making good money, his first impulse was to spend it on bling. Instead, he bought landscaping equipment and started a weekend lawn business. Aldo and Sinue also have a side business pouring concrete.
Aldo doesn’t have a lot of free time, but when he does, he helps other Mexican immigrants. He helps them open bank accounts, translate documents, and send money back to Mexico. Aldo and Sinue send money back to their families in Durango. When they visit, they buy tools for their relatives who work in construction under much harsher conditions and for far less money.
Interviewing guys who were still in diapers when I started high school and who make a lot more money than I do was humbling. But I learned from them.
Those of us who take the traditional college route tend to see only a small number of careers: teaching, marketing, sales, accounting, finance, writing. We see jobs disappearing as the economy changes, and careers where getting in the door requires a well-placed family member. But there are so many other options, so many different ways to live.
Sinue is already a homeowner. He also owns a rental property. Cameron trains dogs and is an avid fisherman. I ask him how he finds the time. “When you’re passionate about something,” he says, “you make the time.”
It’s nice getting a little more out of a routine assignment than a paycheck.