What I did All Those Summers: Why the Trades Matter

Sierra Golden

I’ve now spent nine years working in nonprofit development and communications at Casa Latina, Agros International, and TwispWorks. Want to take a guess at the single most formative experience I’ve had to under gird that career? It might surprise you: I spent eight summers as a deckhand on a commercial fishing boat in Southeast Alaska.

So often we tell young people, Go to college, then get a ‘good job.’ I don’t think that’s the whole story.

Those summers I spent on the boat woke me up to the world. I learned tangible hands-on skills: how to mend a hole in a seine net, how to paint, how to navigate, how to change the oil, how to run the hydraulics and then how to fix a broken hydraulic line, how to stock a kitchen, how to cook…

Then there were the soft skills. The long days of physical labor taught me how to be strong and find my reserves when I need them. Sharing tight work and living spaces with four others from diverse backgrounds taught me team building and good communication. Working in the ever-shifting environment of a boat where things constantly break, needing repair with no expert in sight, taught me to be thrifty and creative.

And I love the quiver of axioms I carry with me today. They still guide my thinking when I’m in a tight spot: The perfect paint job is in the prep. You can’t catch yesterday’s fish. Work smarter, not harder. Even better: work smarter and harder.

As TwispWorks Director of Campus Operations Tori Karpenko wrote last year, the trades are, for some people, “the one thing that really lights the fire [and] forges a future career path.” For others, they “may be the only viable pathway for them to graduate.”

The trades–whether you’re talking about fishing or carpentry, mechanics or welding–are active, physical work. They are good wages. They are essential roles in our communities. They can’t be outsourced. We need tradespeople, and we should shower them in gratitude and accolades for their valuable work.

We should also recognize that the trades can be a steppingstone to many careers. As people and as workers, we are not designed to do one thing forever. We can and should add depth, breadth, and meaning to our lives by working with our hands and learning a range of skills in our lifetimes.

Written by Associate Director Sierra Golden