College is not the only career path forward after high school, and in fact, can be costly and ineffective when compared to a path like skilled labor. That’s the message in Josh Zolin’s book “Blue Is the New White, the Best Path to Success No One Told You About - Until Now.”
Zolin stopped by the FM Evolution podcast to discuss his book and revealed the entire project started with a search for technicians. With his father, Zolin owns Windy City Equipment in Phoenix, Arizona. It’s a company that serves over 2,000 restaurants and institutions throughout Arizona and distributes commercial kitchen equipment and food service parts all over the country.
With this book, Zolin said he set out to show just how great of a career one can have in skilled labor and how the jobs can be just as lucrative, if not more lucrative, than a white collar job. Success doesn’t have to mean a college degree, he said.
In his experience, high schools just don’t talk much about skilled trades like plumbers and electricians.
“There was nothing available to me in high school that was telling me this was a viable career path,” Zolin said.
In his book, Zolin highlights four career trajectories after high school and lists some of the pros and cons of each. College is often billed as the most obvious choice for success, with employers often asking where one went and what degree was earned. But college can be costly, with an average debt of $100,000 over a four-year career.
“It’s a lot of money,” Zolin said.
And students are often left saddled with student loans afterward, maybe not even working in their preferred field. The return on investment just isn’t there sometimes.
Another option is to have no continued education at all after high school, which, according to Zolin, is a huge mistake.
“You have to continue learning in one shape or form if you want to live whatever your definition of success is,” he said.
The military is another option, and it’s an honorable one. It can help prepare anyone for the real world just as well as any other route. But it may not be the right option for everyone.
Then there are skilled trades, which can offer apprenticeships right out of high school. And if not, there’s apprentice school options which often cost less than college and get people into the workforce quickly.
The skilled trades can give one everything the other routes can at a much lower cost, often with a great return on investment, according to Zolin.
The Windy City Equipment co-owner said the average age for a technician in his field is 50-60. Younger workers just aren’t coming in quickly to replace aging works in these very viable jobs with plenty of options and great pay, Zolin said.
Offering skilled trades in high school is a wonderful idea. Shop classes were taken out many schools to limit student risks, but Zolin asked, why not replace it in a more practical setting? Teach refrigeration in physics, he said.
High school kids are impressionable, and not every single person is meant to be a doctor, lawyer or psychologist that’ll require an eight-year degree, Zolin said.
“Trades literally manufacture the world as we see it today,” Zolin said.
There are so many options in skilled labor, that can make it hard to choose a job. But Zolin recommends reverse engineering a passion. Someone might like to take apart RC cars to manipulate them, make them go faster. That person might be well-suited to a career as an electrician or mechanic.
Skilled labor also provides great opportunities for entrepreneurship, according to Zolin.
On the podcast, Zolin was asked what success looks like to him. He said success is when he feels like he’s building something bigger than himself or when he’s looked up to or respected by people or his family. Ultimately, his goal is to inspire one person a day.
Closing the interview, Zolin said he was inspired by his late sister-in-law, an x-ray technician. Her sickness and death taught him that life is too short, and anything can happen, he said. That’s what drove his CEO mentality.
“This is what we need to do, and if we want success, we need to do it now,” he said.
He urged listeners to take every day as the present.