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How I Escaped My Traditional 9-to-5 for a Career in the Trades

How I Escaped My Traditional 9-to-5 for a Career in the Trades

Have you ever thought about changing careers? It can be daunting, but with the proper training, you can switch from a job that you’re just doing to one that you love doing.

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Josh McKay is a carpenter who lives in Southern Ontario’s York Region. He took, as he says, the scenic route to a career in the trades by getting a bachelor of science in biological science and a master of science in kinesiology. We spoke with Josh about his decision to switch from a career in healthcare to one in the trades.

Q: What did you do before becoming a carpenter? 

A: I previously worked as a kinesiologist for a cancer care company. I taught classes and created exercise programs for cancer patients to help with their recovery. It was a rewarding job; it was very fulfilling to see someone get stronger and healthier after going through serious medical challenges.

Q: When did you realize you wanted to change careers?

A: I knew it was time to switch back to carpentry when I found myself doing renovations on the weekends and in my spare time.

Q: What was the process that you followed from leaving your old job and becoming a carpenter?

A: I left my job as a kinesiologist in 2014. However, I began doing carpentry long before that. My dad is a cabinet maker, so I grew up in a shop playing with tools and making little things.

In the summers between years of school, I worked for my stepdad who has his own landscape construction company. Over the years, I quickly learned how to work hard and build all kinds of projects like decks, fences, pergolas, gazebos, retaining walls and interlock driveways. I think it’s important to note that when I first started, I was at the bottom of the totem pole and spent most of my time with either a shovel or wheelbarrow in hand.

Currently, I have my own company that does residential renovations, and I also work in the film industry building sets. I started working in the trades in 2003 and then in film consistently in 2015.

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Q: Why did you decide to change to a trade?

A: I really enjoy working with my hands and get a lot of satisfaction from seeing the finished product.

Q: Was it difficult?

A: I learned a lot very quickly at the beginning, but the learning never stops. There are always different ways to achieve the same result. It’s all about choosing the best approach for each project.

Q: What is the best thing about a career in the trades?

A: I think there is a great deal of job satisfaction for people in the trades. A lot of the work tradespeople do has a direct impact on someone’s day-to-day life. It’s a great feeling when you see how happy a customer is with your work.

Q: What is the best part about working in your specific trade?

A: In carpentry, whether it’s in someone’s house or on a film set, you do a lot of math and problem solving. It’s a good way to use your brain and your body.

Q: Name one thing that surprised you most about working in your trade.

A: In film set construction I was surprised to get catered meals every day!

Q: What has been the most rewarding moment in your career so far?

A: It’s hard to pick one moment, but I generally find renovations rewarding because many homeowners appreciate the time and effort put into a well-crafted project.

Q: What would you say to someone who wants to follow in your footsteps? 

A: I think carpentry is a great career. Anyone who wants to be a carpenter should start at the bottom of the totem pole. If you’re shoveling, pushing a wheelbarrow and carrying material around a job site, you can learn a lot by listening, working hard and paying attention.

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I think it’s important to note that many tradespeople are well educated and qualified in a number of fields, but choose to work in the trades simply because they like it more.

Apprenticeship programs and schooling are a great structured way to learn. Experience is the best teacher, and you can get that through one of those programs or by working for a reputable company.

All photos courtesy of Getty Images.



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