You don’t need college to be successful

You don’t need college to be successful

In his new book, “Blue is the New White: The Best Path to Success No One Told You About“, Josh Zolin explains why a college degree is not necessarily the only path to success. He discovered this firsthand, rising through hard work from a technician at his dad’s small business to the CEO of a multi-million-dollar company.

The Skilled Trades, an Alternative

According to Zolin, high school students don’t understand how lucrative a career in the trades can be.  These careers are thought of as unworthy, but there is actually a lot of room for growth and opportunity.  Pursuing a career in the trades also allows young adults to succeed without a great deal of debt.

Shifting Perceptions

One reason why careers in the trades, such as plumbing or HVAC, seem undesirable is the perception that these careers are hard and dirty.  Zolin points out that this is only one part of a trades career.  There are many support roles in the trades, such as salespeople, managers, and people who own software companies that specifically serve the trades.  These are all careers where knowledge of the trade is essential, but are not labor intensive.  By shifting the idea that trades are dirty, they can be made more desirable.

There is also the perception that tradespeople make a low salary.  While this might be true when beginning a career, in just a few years a tradesman can go from making $15 an hour to $30-$35 or more.  Zolin believes that by making this information available, more young adults may decide to pursue a career in the trades.

Zolin also points out that many of the systems modern society relies on is a result of trade work.  This means that the need for skilled tradesmen is only going to grow.  This demand will lead to an abundance of opportunity.

Advice for Students

What should you do if you are not sure about college?  Zolin recommends trying a trade.  Even if you decide that a trade is not for you, you will have made some money to pay for a college education.  If you try college first, you may not have the money to pay for it and incur debt that you will then have to pay off.

When it comes to deciding about a career, Zolin advocates giving students all available information, about both college and the trades.

The interview

What inspired you to write this book?

Josh Zolin: Anybody who follows me, or anybody in this line of work, or just trades in general … And it’s becoming a little bit more mainstream now. But they’ve almost certainly heard of the skilled trades gap. It’s been a topic of conversation for a couple of years now, but it’s getting more and more abundant in the media, and more and more evident in the actual industries. My industry, a big struggle for me is finding top talent, finding good technicians. And when you do find them from a business standpoint, they’re very, very expensive. I mean, these technicians make a lot of money. The same can be said for anybody in the trades, especially with loads of experience, the kind of experience that business owners of my type are looking for. So, the problem is the industry itself is growing. I mean, it’s a booming industry. And I’m talking trades in general, like electrical, plumbing, HVAC, refrigeration, construction, the whole nine yards. The whole skilled trades industry, it’s growing, but the profession itself is dying. People are retiring faster than entering into the industry. I think the last statistic I read was about 5:1. … Read more

Josh Zolin: For every five people that retire, one comes into the business. So that’s creating this dynamic where it’s making it difficult for companies to grow at the pace that they could if they were able to find the talent that would facilitate that. That’s the position that we’re finding ourselves in. I mean, knock on wood, we’ve been very fortunate, and we’ve still been able to grow. But the more and more we do, the more and more evident it becomes that finding this talent is hard. So that led me to do a little bit more research on it. Led me to do that and really get to the heart of what was going on, which is when I found out about the skilled trades gap, and what it meant for the economy and everything else. And that’s what led me to write the book because there is no … everybody has their interpretation of what the actual problem is behind the skilled trades gap, why people aren’t entering this industry at the same rate that they once were. However, there’s not a lot of material out there that provides a solution.

Josh Zolin: And so, I’m not one to just sit back and wait for somebody to do something that that needs to be done. So, I took it upon myself to write the book as hopefully a solution. It’s actually written in a manner that young people, say, high school or so, would understand and resonate with but is also backed by information that can educate the educators. What I mean by that is that parents and teachers of these children were brought up, they were raised a certain way, right? That college is the way, college is the path to success. And in a nutshell, when … it’s not necessarily true for everybody. The people don’t know what kind of success and what kind of opportunities exist in the trades because there’s this universal perception now that trade work is subpar. Subpar to a college education. It’s what you do if you can’t get into college, it’s what you do if you’re not smart enough. And that’s trickled down through society for people, and it’s just created this huge misconception of the entire industry.

Josh Zolin: I like to say to people, “Close your eyes and think of a plumber. What comes to mind?” And everybody gives me the same answer. It’s, “Oh, it’s a guy in a jumpsuit holding a monkey wrench.” Or, “He’s wearing ripped up jeans with grease on his face.” Whatever it may be, and nothing could be further from the truth. But that’s the image that we’ve all adopted, right? So that’s what the book is for. That’s why now is the time that I had to write it because somebody has to change this perception if we want more people to enter this industry and know what kind of opportunities it presents.

What’s a solution to this problem?

Josh Zolin: It’s a lot of things. It’s definitely … the image doesn’t necessarily need to be changed; it just needs to be thought of in a different perspective. What needs to change? Yes. Is the image I said at the plumber. But the trades are the trades and a lot of them are dirty, and a lot of them are hard, but that’s what’s focused on.

Josh Zolin: If we shift the perspective a little bit to what happens after that, or what can happen parallel to that, everything else that goes along in the industry, aside from just the dirty work. Because that’s only one element, right? But that’s what everybody seems to focus on, is this idea that the trades are dirty. When in reality you’ve got entrepreneurs, you’ve got salesman, you’ve got managers, you’ve got people parallel to the trades that own software companies that specifically serve the trades. I mean, a lot of these guys were in the trades before they went and did something like that. XOi that I mentioned before is a good example, they only cater to the mechanical, electrical, and plumbing industries because their team has a background in trade work, and they saw a void that needed to be filled. All of these things are a result of trade work and a result of being in the trades, so we need to raise awareness to those types of possibilities. And then also just educate people on the benefits that actually exist.

Josh Zolin: People don’t realize plumbers, and electricians, and technicians can pull in six figures a year in their mind, and I think even some of my customers are the same way. They’re under the impression that technicians are 15, $16 an hour. So, yeah, maybe right out of school, right at a trade school, or just entering into the industry as an apprentice, you’re going to be in that wage range. But give it 5, 10 years. I mean, you’re up in the 30, $35 an hour range and even more. And that translates to a six-figure income very, very quickly. That’s the type of information that we need to get across to everybody so that they understand that the trades are equal to that have of a career you can pursue with a college education.

Who was the book written for?

Josh Zolin: The youth, the book is for the students. The book is for the high school students to really open their eyes to the possibility that exists in a place that they’re usually not told to look. And that’s really for … because the benefit of the book is twofold, right?

Josh Zolin: It’s getting kids interested in the trades and enabling their success, enabling them to see success in places that they didn’t know existed. But then also the other element is for these trade companies, and to close this gap that we’re seeing, this skilled trade gap. So, it’s an all-inclusive solution, which is what makes it great because it’s hard to market towards high school students. Right? I can’t put this book out and say, “Hey, if you’re a high school kid make sure you read this book.” Because I know when I was in high school, you couldn’t pay me to read a book. So, I’m relying on gaining the attention of those people in the trades, and the educators, and things like that so they can be the ones to say, “Hey kid, you need to read this book.” So, the people who influence the young people are the ones who basically need to give the book to them.

Josh Zolin: The first one is that there are other measures to success besides college, and that’s the main breakthrough point, right? Is that you just need to break out of the perception that college is an absolute necessity for anybody and everybody because there are a lot of people under that assumption. I know that when I was growing up, there were friends of mine … and I was fortunate enough to have parents that supported my vision no matter what it was I wanted to do, whether that included college or not. But most of my friends, even the ones who weren’t sure whether or not they wanted to go to college, their parents would all say the same thing, “Well, just go to college, take the core classes and you’ll figure it out.” Problem is when you’re taking the core classes, you’re still paying for it, right? You’re paying for this education. You’re paying to figure something out that you may not know requires a college education. And that’s the part that I have a problem with is because college will always be there.

Josh Zolin: So if you’re unsure whether or not you need college to do what you want to do, then the trades is a really great route to go because of all the opportunity, because of all of the benefits to it, and the life skills, and everything else that you learn. And at that point if you decide, “Hey, I don’t think I’m a fit in the trades.” Then you can go to college and you’ll have made a good enough living in the trades to help you in that route. That’s really the second part, is the benefits within the trade. That’s the second takeaway is informing people of why this path is also acceptable in lieu of a college education. And there are some people out there too … let me say this, that do both. They go to college and then they realize, “Oh, I want to work with my hands. I want to be in the trades.” And then they go off and they do a trade. The problem at that point though, is that most of those people are already in debt at that point.

Josh Zolin: So, they’re using the trade work as a way to pay off their student loans. It’s much more efficient if they go into that trade route first and then decide, “Hey, this isn’t for me. I’m going to go to college.” But yeah, that’s the second takeaway, is the benefits that the trades offer.

Is there more opportunity in trade work?

Josh Zolin: And here’s the thing about trade work. I mean, you look out the window, right? Assuming you’re not living in a log cabin somewhere in the woods. Let’s assume you’re in an urban neighborhood of some kind. You look out the window, anything and everything that you see is a result of trade work. The roads that the cars drive on, the paint on those roads, the cars themselves, the tires on the cars, the lamp posts. I mean, the gravel that was poured next to the road, every single one of those is a result of the trades. So, it’s not even about the lack of competition, it’s about the abundance of opportunity. There is so much work to be done in the trades because they literally manufacture the entire world as we see it today.

Any final thoughts you’d like to share?

Josh Zolin: I would really like for students and young people to understand that success is closer than they might think, that success is available in other areas besides a college education. But you need to figure that out for yourself, you need to be willing to work, and you need to be realistic in your circumstances. So that’s where considering trade work becomes an option. And then also speaking to the parents and the educators, those who influence the students, they need to regard the trades as a viable career option and actually begin bringing it front and center to the forefront the minds of students. Because if we’re asking 18-year olds to choose their profession at that age anyway, the least we can do is give them all the information and not just what they can pick off of a list in a college curriculum.

Josh Zolin author of "Blue is the New White"

Josh Zolin

Book Author

Josh Zolin is the CEO of Windy City Equipment Services, a restaurant equipment repair and HVAC company. From his beginnings as a technician, Josh rose through the ranks to become CEO, helping to grow the company from just him and his dad to forty employees. From 2014 to 2018, Windy City’s annual revenue rose from $1.2 million to $7.5 million, and in 2018 the company was named to Inc. 5000, earning spot number 1,429 of the 5,000 fastest-growing companies in America. Josh lives in Gilbert, Arizona, with his wife and two daughters.