Not everyone knows what they want to do after high school – or college for that matter. Some take a straight line to a future career, and some take a crooked, but interesting, path. Take Ben Knaiss, for example. He was raised believing that a four-year college degree was expected, but he eventually followed his heart and went into a trade. Read his story so that you, too, might follow your heart.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I am an electrician and personal trainer by trade. I’m from Logan, IA, and recently moved back to that area. I love outdoor activities, hiking, biking, motorcycles, and more. I played every sport that I could in high school. I enjoy spending time with family. I love helping people reach their goals. I love fixing things. I am a problem solver and nothing frustrates me more than a problem that I can’t find a solution to.
As a high school student, what message did your parents give you about college?
My dad never finished college. He started his own business, but always wished that he had gotten a degree. He saw the success of others who had finished college. So, the message was always “you have to go to college and get a degree no matter what.”
Where did you attend college, and what was your major?
I graduated from Iowa State University with a major in Health and Fitness Management (Exercise Science) and a minor in Business.
Did you accumulate much in student loans while in college?
I did not receive any scholarships, but did receive some grants. I paid for some of my college by working as a server on the weekends and as a part-time personal trainer during the week. The rest was borrowed. I ended up with close to $30,000 in debt.
What did you do after college?
I did a six-month internship at Ames Racquet and Fitness Center as a personal trainer/group fitness Instructor and was hired on full time after that. I also continued working as a server on the weekends. Later, I moved back to Logan and got a job at the YMCA in Council Bluffs as a personal trainer/group fitness instructor. I also coordinated all of their medically-based wellness programs.
What made you want to return to school to become an electrician?
I loved what I was doing at the YMCA, but the hours were not consistent. I was guaranteed 20 hours a week, but the rest had to come from personal training. It was not easy to consistently keep 20-30 hours of personal training, so, some weeks I did great and others not so great. I was essentially considered a part-time employee, so had no full-time benefits; holiday pay, vacation days, snow days, health insurance, etc… I wasn’t making enough money to adequately support myself.
I needed a change and I really needed a 40+ hour/week job with full-time benefits. So, I started looking for jobs near me that met that criteria. At first, I didn’t really care what the job was as long as it was full-time with benefits. Then, I found a job posting for an apprentice electrician. I’ve always enjoyed working with my hands and wiring things up. It started with car stereos in high school. So, I applied, got an interview and got hired on.
What education and training is required to be an electrician? Did you need to borrow more in student loans?
To be an electrician, you need four years of school, 8,000 hours of on-the-job training, and you have to pass a journeyman’s test to become licensed. Luckily, I did not have to borrow any more. My company pays for tuition. I just have to pay for the book, so about $200/year.
What are you doing for work now? Do you like the work?
I am primarily working on custom homes. From start to finish we do it all. That is what I probably enjoy most about this trade is that we get to see the house go from a hole in the ground to a finished product. A lot of trades only get to see one portion of the building process. For example, the guy that puts the foundation in probably never see’s that house again once it’s poured. Or, the framer, once that house is framed up, he’s gone and never gets to see the finished product. There is also something about turning the lights on for the first time, in a brand-new house you wired, that really gets me.
Also, I do personal training several evenings a week at the JCC in Omaha.
Do you have any regrets about the path you took after high school? Would you have done anything differently?
I am glad that I went to ISU and got that piece of paper. However, if I could do it differently, I would have gone to trade school right out of high school. I could’ve been a journeyman when I was 22 instead of 32.
What advice would you give high school students about college, career, and doing what you love?
It is so difficult to know what you want to do for a job/career right out of high school, but if you do know what you want to do then go for it. Whether it is a trade school, college, or some other avenue to get you there; make it happen. Also, immerse yourself in the field it you want to be in. For example, when I was going to ISU I got a job as a personal trainer at the recreation center. I learned so much more by actually being a personal trainer than I ever did sitting in class learning about how to be one. The same is true for becoming an electrician. Yes, the classwork is necessary, but I have learned so much more actually working in the field.