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This article is about the "skilled manual worker" meaning of the term. For other uses, see Tradesperson (disambiguation).

A tradesman or skilled tradesman is a manual worker in a particular trade or craft requiring skill (i.e., the "skilled trades").


In Victorian England:

The terms "skilled worker," "craftsman," "artisan," and "tradesman" were used in senses that overlap. All describe people with specialized training in the skills needed for a particular kind of work. Some of them produced goods that they sold from their own premises (e.g., bootmakers, saddlers, hatmakers, jewelers, glassblowers); others (e.g., typesetters, bookbinders, wheelwrights) were employed to do one part of the production in a business that required a variety of skilled workers. Still others were factory hands who had become experts in some complex part of the process and could command high wages and steady employment. Skilled workers in the building trades (e.g., carpenters, masons, plumbers, painters, plasterers, glaziers) were also referred to by one or another of these terms."[1]

One study of Caversham, New Zealand at the turn of the century notes that a skilled trade was considered a trade that required an apprenticeship to entry.[2] Skilled tradesmen worked either in traditional handicraft workshops or newer factories that emerged during the Industrial Revolution.[2] Traditional handicraft roles included, for example: "sail-maker, candle-maker, cooper, jappaner, lapidary and taxidermist, cannister-maker, furrier, cap-maker, dobbin-maker, french-polisher, baker, miller, brewer, confectioner, watch-maker, tinsmith, glazier, maltster, wood-turner, saddler, shipwright, scale-maker, engraver and cutler."[2]

Modern use and list of skilled trades[edit]

Tradesmen are contrasted with unskilled workers (laborers), agricultural workers, and professionals (those in the learned professions).[3] Skilled tradesmen are distinguished:

  • from unskilled workers (e.g., laborers) in that the unskilled workers "rely heavily on physical exertion" while those in the skilled trades rely on "specific knowledge, skills, and abilities."[4] Both types of work, however, are considered blue-collar.[4]
  • from professionals in that the professionals have a higher duty of care[5] and routinely make decisions "on the basis of expertise and ability in complex situations where there may be no, or little, previous history."[6]

There is no definitive list of modern skilled trades, as definitions vary, with some lists being broader than others.[7]

A June 2013 report by the Michigan Department of Technology, Management and Budget, however, generated the following list of trades (divided into industrial, construction, and service skilled trades), along with their Standard Occupational Classification System code:[7]

Earnings and social standing[edit]

Although a skilled trade in the United States is usually less financially lucrative in the long term than an academic degree, it can still provide a respectable income at much less cost in time, tuition, student loans, and lost earnings, sometimes with the option of upgrading to a bachelor's degree at a later time. Even ten years after graduation, the median annual salary of those in an engineering trade is only slightly below that of B. A. holders, and significantly exceeds that of B. A. holders in the humanities or psychology.[8]

A British study found that, after taking student loan repayments into account, a higher apprenticeship (at level 5 on the Qualifications and Credit Framework, equivalent to a foundation degree) delivered higher lifetime median earnings than a degree from a university outside the Russell Group. Despite this, polling for the report found that apprenticeships have a lower perceived value than bachelor's degrees.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Sally Mitchell, Daily Life in Victorian England (Greenwood: 1996), p. 60.
  2. ^ a b c Erik Olssen, Building the New World: Work, Politics, and Society in Caversham, 1880s-1920s (Auckland University Press, 1995), pp. 47-49.
  3. ^ Whitney, William D., ed.. "Trade." Def, 7. The Century Dictionary: An Encyclopedic Lexicon of the English Language vol. 8. New York. The Century Co. 1895. 6,415.
  4. ^ a b Wanda J. Campbell & Robert A. Ramos, "Blue-collar Selection in Private Sector Organizations" in Handbook of Employee Selection (eds. James L. Farr, Nancy T. Tippins: Taylor & Francis 2010), p. 741.
  5. ^ Robert D. Sprauge, "Liability for System and Data Quality" in Social, Ethical and Policy Implications of Information Technology (eds. Linda L. Brennan & Victoria Elizabeth Johnson: Idea Group: 2004), p. 194)
  6. ^ Christopher Lawless, Forensic Science: A Sociological Introduction (Routledge, 2016), p. 62.
  7. ^ a b Employment and Occupations in the Skilled Trades in Michigan, Michigan Department of Technology, Management, and Budget, Bureau of Labor Market Information and Strategic Initiatives (June 2013).
  8. ^ Barshay, Jill (25 May 2015). "Many community college grads continue to out-earn B.A. holders a decade after graduation". Hechinger Report. Teachers College, Columbia University. Retrieved 29 October 2015. It’s not the degree that matters, but what you got the degree in and, to some extent, where you got it 
  9. ^ "Levels of Success". Sutton Trust. 9 October 2015. Retrieved 14 February 2016. 

External links[edit]