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1) DON’T Go to University

Wait – my parents, teachers, guidance counsellors and the janitor all told me that the path to success in Canada ALWAYS went straight through the mythical land of university.  Are you telling me that they are all wrong?  Yes, yes I am.  There are many paths to prosperity and some of them lead through university.  Many others do not.  If we’re looking for the quickest way to become a millionaire, I would argue that that path does not lead through university at all.  I will repeat this until I’m blue in the face – universities are fantastic places – BUT they do not have a monopoly on learning or on valuable credentials.

2) Start Your Trades Education While in High school

So, if not always university, where do I need to go and what do I need to learn in order to give myself an edge in the global marketplace?  You can start with your “shop” or industrial arts teacher!  Most provinces now not only offer traditional industrial arts programming in school, but also offer all sorts of incentives to explore in-demand trades.  In Manitoba we have an unbelievable proposition for students that want to take a trades-based education.  If you want to start working in a trade while in high school you will get:

A) Paid!  The government will top up your wages – this means that an employer will get an employee at a subsidized rate.

B) Hours towards your first level of apprenticeship so that you can start earning the big bucks quicker.

C) High school credits towards graduation.

We’ve had several students in our little school work all the way through their high school years earning wages while other kids are in class, and then challenge the test for their first level of apprenticeship in various trades right after graduation as a result of having “banked” hundreds of hours before they even received their diploma.

3) Go Get Paid Your First Year Out of High School

I went to university for five years of maximum course loads before my education started earning me a paycheque.  Sure, I worked as I went, but my ability to earn money and work was severely curtailed by my commitment to attaining university credentials.  A trades education allows you to work as you go through the program and climb the salary/qualifications ladder.  In many cases, students who work in the trades can actually qualify for employment insurance while they attend the classroom part of their education.  Sure, not too many people get rich working for apprenticeship-level wages, but last time I checked, they are still substantially higher than what many people make working part-time as they go through more traditional routes of post-secondary education.  Get paid, pay yourself first, rinse and repeat.

Related: 6 Financial Tips for a Good Start in Your 20s 

4) Move to Where The Jobs Are

It’s become a recent Canadian tradition to assume that the government (or the more nebulous concept of “the world”) owes us a job within 12 blocks of where we grew up.  Quite simply, this attitude cannot persist in a free trade-driven marketplace.  Going forward, people will have to adapt and be dynamic about where they work and possibly shift industries as they go.  This is especially true when you look at the frustration many companies based in rural Canada feel when they view the high unemployment rates in many of Canada’s urban environments.  By moving to where the demand is your ability to charge top dollar for the product you are offering is greatly increased.  Your leverage point is simply higher because of the way supply and demand works!  Go where you are most needed if you want to be a millionaire.

Related: Why Starting Your Career Rurally Makes Sense

5) Take Some Business Classes at a Local Community College

Now that you’re out there making (and saving) real cash in your twenties it’s time to put the next phase of your plan into action – transitioning from becoming an employee to an employer.  In order to make this transition successfully, I would assume it’s pretty nice to have some preparation to fall back on.  From what I can tell, you definitely don’t need an MBA from “Generic Old University” or an A+ in economics courses to run your own business.  After talking to many successful (and some not-so-successful) small business owners it’s much more important to become educated about stuff such as how to do a payroll, what a business plan looks like, how HR works, some accounting and tax preparation basics, etc.  Most of this information can actually be accessed for free or for a relatively small fee online.  If you crave a credential (who doesn’t in our social media-obsessed world) and a classroom experience, chances are one of the local colleges or polytechniques wherever you live has some great educational opportunities that will help you get your feet wet before you eventually take the plunge of transitioning from earning a trades-based wage, to running a trades-based small business.  Most entrepreneurs will tell you that ultimately experience is by far the best teacher when it comes to running a small business anyway.

Related:  I Graduated from College or University… Now What?

6) Start Your Own Trades Business

Now comes the really hard part – running your own show.  I believe it’s certainly possible to become a millionaire before you hit 55 by doing steps 1 through 4 and then implementing some of the personal finance stuff you can find on sites like this one.  It’s much easier to become rich if you run your own business – period.  It’s also much easier to go bankrupt – which is why you’re going to choose to start a business in a part of the market you’ve been in for years and thoroughly understand.  One would assume that over 10 or so years in the industry you could pick up some solid contacts, understand where efficiencies can be found, and generally be proficient at providing the service you’ve been trained for and experienced firsthand.  In a best-case scenario, you might have even gained experience working for multiple employers in multiple parts of the industry so that you have a few different comparison points and a better feel for the situation overall.

You’re now a young person with a top-level credential in your field – such as a Red Seal Journeyman – and you can begin hiring bright, young, ambitious employees.  You have the skills needed to train others and the knowledge of how to handle your own small business.  Sure, you’ll make a few errors here and there, but as long as you’re in a high-demand area you should be able to buy yourself a couple of years to iron all the kinks out.  Perhaps you’ll eventually get an attractive buyout offer, or make big bucks for a few years before selling out to your bright young protégé and deciding to supplement your income with some part-time work (possibly easing the transition for whoever takes over) and maybe some black market stuff every now again because trades people can make quite a good little side income off of the books.

Then you can sit back and read articles about broke university grads and how life isn’t fair.

Article comments

David says:

Great Tips!

I quit school in grade 9 to go to work and learn a trade, I started my own business at 19 years old. I’m 27 now and my personal income is $140,000 per year and growing.

I do have some debts but nothing near as much as If I went to university.

I ended up taking a few courses to help me but mostly you can learn on your own.

Kyle says:

That’s an awesome story David! Did you get a lot of blowback from people when you decided to do your own thing?

SST says:

Just goes to show the shift in economy.

The majority of current millionaires do have post-secondary (aka university) degrees but attained at a fraction of current costs and worth more at time of acquisition. Today’s university student millionaire-to-be is facing both increased debt load and career competition. In other words, a degree just ain’t what it used to be.

Take the classic comparison of a McDonald’s worker vs. a medical doctor. Assuming classic saving/investing scenarios, it takes the doc something until age 45 (or thereabout) to catch up to the Mickey D’s worker financially.

Blue-collar is now slowly shaking off its ‘dumb-dumb’ stigma and stepping into the limelight.
(A misnomer because I’m sure any carpenter worth his wood could out-math the majority of degree holders!)

Business ownership is essential in the pursuit of the millionaire dream. The biggest lesson learned will be that a great tradesperson does not (or rarely) make a great businessperson. Most will fail. Worth the money to hire a solid manager. And if you aren’t that great businessperson, most definitely learn to invest.

A much broader two-step course would be i) learn to work for your money and ii) learn to make your money work for you.

Kyle says:

I think when it comes to blue-collar work in the modern North American economy you almost have to further separate skilled labour and non-skilled labour. With manufacturing taking a major hit in central Canada, really the only places where the old high-school-educated-but-works-hard model can still work is in oil and other resource extraction. Trades people on the other hand have a lot more options open. I just can’t get over how reasonable the costs are for post-secondary schooling when it comes to the trades world versus university costs.

Good point about having difficulty being good at everything. Maybe I should start marketing myself as a “consultant” or some other such vague title, aimed at servicing the financial needs of the trades niche.

Carolyn says:

Can I add one more step?

How about learning how to invest (and trade) in stocks, bonds, ETFs and Forex while still in school.

In one way or another (though I hate to admit it) I wish somebody thought me financial planning instead of just learning theories.

Kyle says:

That’s certainly a big step Carolyn! That being said – I’m working on it!

Koala says:

Step 4 can be skipped, if someone is willing to work while staying in a camp. I know many people doing this.

Kyle says:

Good point Koala!

Phil says:

Great advice! I went to university, but I know several friends who did not and have done very well. I have a few friends that did not go through post secondary and most of them are independent business owners, among my “richest” friends. There is so much opportunity, so go be happy with what you do, and everything will just work out. Those that start early in life with a plan are most likely to reach their goals.. But what would I know, I stopped working at 40, and enjoy every minute of every day 🙂 – Cheers.

Liquid says:

These are great suggestions. More people need to think outside the box. I never graduated from a University but I still make a decent living from just a diploma. Education comes in many different forms. The important thing is to learn a marketable skill.

Kyle says:

Thanks Liquid!