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June 18, 2010

The case for the trades

A few days ago on the ONT there was some discussion about the value of a college education versus their soaring costs these days and it got me thinking.

Considerable cost can be saved by going to a Community college for the first two years. My brother and I both did that and went on to graduate degrees. The trick is finding a good one. We both attended HVCC in Troy NY (further reducing the cost via NYS Regents Scholarships).

It turned out that HVCC engineering/science grads who went on to RPI, on average, had their GPA's go UP after the transfer, while overall transfers to RPI from elsewhere had their GPA's go DOWN. Bottom line: the first two years at HVCC was TOUGHER than the first two years at the much pricier RPI. Undoubtedly quality at various CC's can vary widely, but if you looked around, I'm sure there's still a few "gems" in the vast ocean of mediocre.

BUT...that was then when education was cheap, this is now when its expensive and graduating $40-100+K in the hole is something one can't just ignore.

A lot of the CC's and trade schools offer an alternative -- the AAS degree in various things like HVAC, electrical tech, med tech, etc. With one of those in hand you can land a job as say an apprentice HVAC tech without too much problem. Spend another 3 years in the barrel doing the scut work and you'll be in line for journeyman.

What good is being a journeyman HVAC tech? Well, you can then strike out on your own and start your own business with a partner who went a similar route.

Here's how the math works out -- a 5-ton A/C unit wholesales for around $2,000 these days. People typically charge around $5,000 to install one. Its about 1 full day worth of work for two guys when there's new piping to be run and you can reuse the existing control wire and electrical hookups. There's maybe $500 in fittings, new pipe, etc involved (some of which you'll recover by scrapping the old pipe and condenser core).

If you had say $500/job overhead, gas, license fees, insurance, etc, you and your partner are still looking at a tidy $1,000 profit each for one 8-hour days worth of work...that's $125/hr.

$125/hr can fund a pretty comfortable lifestyle, and/or pay for a lot of night school bachelors/graduate degrees, etc.

Similar profit margins exist for plumbers who specialize in water heater swaps. The going rate for a new water heater here in south FL is about $650, the units are around $200, and it only takes a couple of hours start to finish to slam one in. Schedule 3 of those jobs a day and things are looking pretty good.

This shit about wanting everyone to go to college straight away is silly. College is nice, I think most people would benefit from it, but its not something that needs to happen straight out of high school.


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posted by Purp at 07:57 AM

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