How To Love Your Work And Secure Your Future With Ken Rusk

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Table Of Contents

In this episode, Michael Gardon chats with Ken Rusk. Ken Rusk is a blue-collar construction entrepreneur and founder of Rusk Industries, Inc. who has launched multiple successful endeavors over the last 30 plus years. He has made it his mission to hire, train, and coach first-time job seekers, particularly those like himself who don’t have college degrees. His training programs help young people to set achievable goals through visualization and sound financial planning. He believes that anyone can realize their dreams and live a comfortable life regardless of their educational background or past. Rusk lives in Sylvania, Ohio with his wife and daughter.


  • Ken’s thoughts on college and the ROI on college
  • How to figure out what you want your life to look like, and then how to find a career that will give you that life
  • Ken’s background
  • Supply and demand issues that we are currently seeing
  • Ken’s thoughts on now being the best time to start your own business
  • How to transition to a blue collar job


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Disclaimer: The transcript that follows has been generated using artificial intelligence. We strive to be as accurate as possible, but minor errors and slightly off timestamps may be present due to platform differences.

Michael Gardon (00:00):

Hi everyone. And welcome back to another episode of CareerCloud Radio. I'm your host Michael Gardon. I'm on a mission to help job seekers build thriving careers of their choosing to do that. I try to have interesting conversations with people that approach the idea of career a bit differently. Today's guest is Ken Rusk. Ken is a blue collar construction entrepreneur and founder of Rusk industries. If you think that doesn't sound sexy enough, realize Ken makes millions of dollars per year digging ditches. Ken is also the author of Blue Collar Cash. Love your work, secure your future, and find happiness for life, which he wrote to help young people find a vision for their life first, and then shows them how they can secure their future through blue collar jobs. Look, everyone we're living in a world where we can control our destinies better than any other time in human history. We just need the perspective to look in unexpected areas for answers, to how we can create the life we want. There's huge demand and for trade workers and very short supply. To me that smells like a big opportunity to carve out a super meaningful and lucrative life. I hope you enjoy this episode with Ken Rusk.

Michael Gardon (01:08):

Ken, welcome to the podcast. How are you?

Ken Rusk:

Hey Mike, thanks for having me. I'm good. Thank you.

Michael Gardon:

Cool. I'm really excited to have you on part of the ethos of this show, you know, is really trying to open people's eyes to the world of opportunity that they have to define their own careers and to get really intentional about the decisions that they make. And I think one of the biggest skills that I find is missing in that equation for a lot of people is viewing many of their decisions. And it's specifically decisions around career through an investing lens, right? Having you're giving something and you have an expected return on that. And I think that's, that's missing. And so I want to start out with, it's very clear to me that the ROI on a college education for most people is broken. And so alternatives such as blue collar careers and trade jobs event on my radar for a long time. I just want to open with, you know, tell me about your views on this subject and then why are blue collar jobs, trade jobs, maybe the answer to, for a lot of people.

Ken Rusk (02:10):

It's interesting because if you look at the efficiency of any system and let, let's just talk about the efficiency of supply and demand in the United States today, and that is a force that is rarely reckoned with, unless it's manipulated in some way. So when I look at systems that are the most efficient, I try to think of, okay, like you said, what's my ROI. What's my best bang for my buck. And I'm not an anti college guy. I'm an anti colleges for everybody guy. If you look at the fact that there's 167 million people in this country that are working at any one time, 76 million of those people do something with their hands. And so you can see that the blue collar field is a very, very important and very steady and will continue to be down the road. Now, when you talk about college right now, 40% of the kids that are going into college or going in as undecided, which to me means, what am I doing here? Or I don't know, yet 25% of those, those kids graduate with a degree that they don't get a job in. They don't use it in their field. And I think one of the most sobering statistics is 35% of people that get a full four year college degree never used that degree in their whole career. So if you compare that with the debt that you have, when you're accumulating debt inside, and you kind of balance that against starting out in a blue collar career, it's kind of a no brainer if colleges.

Michael Gardon (03:36):

Yeah. Right. Exactly. So what about the blue collar career path, I guess helps people to maybe get more of a bead on what they're going to do or at least learn more applicable skills to what they ultimately end up?

Ken Rusk (03:50):

Well, I look at it this way, when you're in a blue collar career, you control your own input, you control your own output, you usually control your own financing. Okay. Your own finances based on the first two. And because of all that, you can really build a life that you want, the way you want your life to look for yourself. And I think that's one of the things that's missing. So many times we say, if I get a job and then I start making money, then my life will look like this. And I'm saying, let's do that the opposite way. Let's start out with what exactly do you want your life to look like? Okay. In your best comfort, peace and freedom moment. Like we talked about in the book, what do you want that to look like? And then let's match a career that can get that for you.

Ken Rusk (04:33):

This is a little bit controversial. I'm like, but sometimes when I look back on my career, digging ditches was like 99th on the list of a hundred things that I wanted to do, but it was a means to a lot of different and much better ends. And so sometimes I think if I've got my life really figured out what I want it to look like going forward, it may not be so important what I do for a living as it is what I do with what I do for a living. So again, a blue-collar career, there's so many awesome opportunities out there that are in demand and high paying. It's a great time to take Advantage of that.

Michael Gardon (05:05):

There's a lot of great jumping off points there. Since you mentioned digging ditches, I want to go kind of back to a little bit. I want to trace a little bit of your career arc, if you will. Can you tell me, and I ask every guest this question, can you tell me about your first job? It could be as a child or just wherever you want to start with. Tell me about your first job.

Ken Rusk (05:28):

I had a bunch of little jobs like, you know, working, delivering newspapers and working at a bakery and working at a bowling alley. Very part-time when I was younger, but my first real job, my high school shared a fence with an industrial park. And there was a hole in that fence. And we used to go into that, a hole through the fence and we would walk to the carry out, you know, after school and just kind of hang out. Well, every day that I walked by that industrial park, I saw this building that had all this activity. I mean, had all the things that young kids liked. It had tractors and tow motors and backhoes, and it had dump trucks and guys milling around. So one day I, what do you guys do here? And I was 15 at the time. And they said, well, we basically dig ditches and we repair old foundations.

Ken Rusk (06:12):

And I said, well, I can do that. So I signed on with them back in, oh my gosh, in the early eighties. And I'm still doing the same thing today, only in a different fashion. So I've been at my current job for about 42 years now, I hate to say, but it was like you said, you know what? I learned a whole lot about what I wanted. I mean, at the time I wanted a used car, I wanted, you know, pizza and money for take my girlfriend out or movies or whatever, you know, buy some clothes or whatever I wanted what every kid wanted. So I started with that vision and said, where can I find money to gain those things? And it just kept snowballing after that.

Michael Gardon (06:48):

So that's great. So did you go to college at all within that period? Did you yourself have the college expenses?

Ken Rusk (06:56):

I really, I went for about three months and I knew instantly that it wasn't for me. I look at it this way. I took kind of the theory that, well, I could spend 30 or $40,000 a year in college and do that for four years and come out with $160,000 in debt, or I could start working and probably earn $40,000 a year and come out of that four year period, $160,000 to the plus side, which to me is a $320,000 swing in my asset base. So it was a no brainer for me to get right into the workforce because I just knew that I could work with my hands and I could create things. And I enjoyed the stand back moment that a blue collar career brings to, to anyone who does it. And so for me, it was a pretty easy decision to leave college and just get right into the workforce.

Michael Gardon (07:47):

Yeah, it sounds like you had that investing lens that I kind of described earlier from a really, really young age. The other thing that I wanted to, I guess, point out was you talked about you know, kind of charting out what you're starting from the opposite direction is most people start so charting out your life and what you want your life to look like. And maybe it doesn't matter exactly what you do for a living because that's one small part of your life. Right? A lot of things that I talk about here are integrating your work with your life and how to do that much better. And again, I'm in, in more of the tech world and we, and I do focus a little bit more on that, but if you have that lens and you know what you want your life to look like, the acquisition of skill becomes way more important than the prestige of what you actually do, because that's what ends up creating all of the value. So where my question is now that you've had this track and you've written this book and you're mentoring a lot of younger people who come to you with questions, where they seem to be most stuck as they work with you.

Ken Rusk (08:59):

That's a really simple question to ask because I'm really actually surprised how ill-prepared our education system is for, for just basic life skills. I mean, you know, I have a staff of 200 and over the last 40 years, we've probably hired a couple thousand people over that time to fill those construction positions. In many cases, it was their first job, which means I was coaching them on their first car, their first department, their first checking account, their first credit card, their first investment account. And it was amazing to me when I would ask them, what do you see your life looking like? They could only think to next Friday. Okay. And when I was going to get paid and what I was going to do this weekend. So we started creating these life drawings, these life boards, which is, it's not rocket science, Mike it's, we, we would take a big white piece of poster board and a bunch of crayons. And we would say, start drawing what you want your life to look like. I mean, do you see yourself in a house, a condo, an apartment in the city? Do you see yourself as a pickup truck guy or gal or a motorcycle person or an electric vehicle or a bus rider? Do you see yourself as a pet owner? And if so, what kind of pet and what was you name it? All the different things that your, your favorite charity gives back moment, your favorite hobby, draw all this out on a piece of paper and say, okay, that's kind of mine. Rivana the way I see it right now. And then we just chop those things into small pieces and we'd go after them one piece at a time. And when someone says to themselves, wow, I now realize I'm in control of my own life and my own pieces and parts to that. They're like, get out of my way, Ken, and let me do the work.

Michael Gardon (10:38):

Really interesting. So it's like kind of the basic blocking and tackling. And I think then where your sauce comes in is saying like, guys, you don't have to, you don't have to necessarily become a lawyer or a doctor or whatever to accomplish that. There's a really good pathway through what you're doing currently or in a, in a related trade field actually manifest that. Right.

Ken Rusk (11:04):

I mean, you know, listen to what I mean, think about what they go through. First off kids nowadays grow up with, with cell phones and iPads, and that's where they do their designing and their construction work right. Where I had a hammer and a nail and I found some wood and nailed it to a tree and, you know, did whatever we did. Right? So they go through this almost a surreal experience when it comes to being outside, working with your hands. And then you take shop class out of high schools, which happened back in the eighties. And I think that was a big mistake. I mean, they replaced them with computers and I thought, well, yeah, I know we need to learn computers, but couldn't, we have had both. And then you have, I guess the stigma of, if you don't go to college, you're never going to amount to anything. And my gosh, Mike, nothing could be further from the truth there. I mean, we've got guys in our town, carpenters and plumbers and electricians that are making as much and more than family doctors. So you really have to just stand back a second and say, wait a minute, this funnel to college is just this all encompassing thing. It's got too much power and we need to stand back and say, what other options do I have before I make that lifelong decision?

Michael Gardon (12:13):

Yeah, you're speaking my language. Absolutely. It makes a lot of sense. I think around here where I live, I know some roofers that multimillionaires, you know, I think you would never suspect this, right. Or at least someone like me and my friends would never expect, you know, expect this, but it's there. I think one of the things that's always, I guess, fascinated and puzzled me about, let's say the roofer example or, you know, the carpenter example that is able to sort of achieve some level of like financial freedom is like, where is the leverage in that career path? So by leverage, I mean, I look at it as like I'm selling my time and yes, my rates can go up. But how does someone go from, let's say it's 50 bucks an hour to making millions, you have to create a business or are there other avenues to kind of attaining that level?

Ken Rusk (13:09):

I can answer that in two ways, if this keeps going the way it is, you can just do your regular normal job by yourself and probably create that kind of money in the future. The way supply and demand is going. But, you know, it's really kind of simple to me. I think people, when you think of starting their own business, they kind of really, over-complicate what that is. They put up all these barriers that don't belong. I mean, back in the old days, we ran our company with spreadsheets and pencils and calculators and all that kind of stuff. But now you can run a company on your smartphone. I mean, if you have a pickup truck and a phone, you're everywhere you need to be. So I look at it this way. There has never been a better time in my entire life that has been easier or more opportunistic than to start your own business in, in this environment. Because you can go to work for somebody and acquire some skills from them. They're going to love the fact that you just show up every day with a firm handshake and you look them in the eye and they're going to share with you all the skills that they have. You can either move into managing their company for them and retire them eventually. Or you can take those skills and find a couple of other people and start your own small business. And if you think about $50 an hour for yourself now multiply that times maybe some of the starter wages for those jobs, 26, 28, $30 an hour, where you're making money on, you know, your crew and that's where you leverage. And that's where you multiply. It's certainly what we did. I mean, we started with six people and now we have 200. So it's a thing where you kind of leverage the efforts of everybody, but you take them with you on their journey. I think that's the really important part.

Michael Gardon (14:48):

Right? Yeah. Building out a little, a little crew, as you said, there's where the leverage can come in. It makes a lot of sense. You talked about supply and demand. And I think in this particular, this time in our lives, so we're, you know, mid 20, 21. And I look around, I try to get some, try to hire somebody to come to my house to work on some heating or something. And you can't get anyone building materials, you know, you can't get anyone. Is that, how much is that a function of just kind of crazy times right now, post COVID boom, versus more of the supply side and lack of skilled workers in these jobs. How does that play out?

Ken Rusk (15:29):

This problem didn't happen during the pandemic. It didn't happen a year before that this has been coming on for a decade or so, you know, for every five electricians that retired today, only one comes online. So you can see right there, that's going to be a challenge in several years as these guys start to retire because the average age of an electrician is 55. So these people, this has been a challenge for, you know, 10 or 15 years, not just recently. I think that's part of the misnomer of this thing. This is not going away, Mike. I mean, as long as you have kids that are growing up without the ability to experiment and discover shop class, without the ability to discover the trades, even by accident, carpentry, plumbing, electrician, machineries, people that are bakers and mechanics, if you don't have the ability to discover that it's just going to continue to shrink the source of where all those workers used to come from. And then this overselling of college, which people really have to wake up and say, wait, wait, time out. It isn't possible for everyone to go to college because if it is, then who's going to fix the streets. Who's going to fix the sewers. Who's going to do the things that we need to be done. And that's just going to put further pressure on the supply side of that and create even higher wage demand, which again, a great opportunity for somebody still willing to put some, some really hard work.

Michael Gardon (16:54):

Yeah. I think the, the college side of that is showing signs of cracking. I mean, as you and I were talking, I mean, you know, I think 25% of college students have been taking a gap year. Right. And a lot of that's pandemic driven. Right. But they're sort of saying like, wow, I went online for a year. Didn't have the full college experience, like let me reevaluate here. So I think like that there's some signs there. And I think that the work that you do and that others do around educating people on kind of this ROI equation, I think works. But what do you think solves the supply side, the labor shortage side of things like, do we need to be creating different apprentice programs? Like how do you see that sort of playing out?

Ken Rusk (17:40):

The very first thing that we need is to remove the stigma of doing one of these jobs. I remember being at a graduation and you know, at the graduation parties, all the parents like to talk about, well, my son is going here and my daughter's going there. And, and, and all that stuff, well, I heard one of these gals say, well, what is, what's your name son going to do? Oh, he's just going to be a plumber. And I laughed to myself because I thought just going to be a plumber. Now that person, now they have like six bands, 12 employees, and they're just absolutely killing it, but they're just a plumber. So I think the first thing we need to do is remove the stigma of not every kid's going to go to Harvard, not every, kid's going to be a rocket scientist, not everyone's going to be a surgeon or an attorney or a doctor or whatever. There is a need for things in this world. And if you have four kids, I can almost guarantee you that one or two of them might be better off in some tactal job that they can do rather than going to college and hoping that something good comes out the other side.

Mike Gardon (18:46):

Yeah. I mean, I, I've got three young boys, so four, seven and nine, and I have conversations all the time with my wife and our friends. And I say, I really would not be surprised at all if one or more of them don't go to college. And I would actually support that. I would say, sure, again, through this ROI lens, through this investment in yourself lens, right? Like if, if there's a better path, that's a more efficient path. Like I'm fully behind that. I talked a little bit about this article I wrote in, in ask men, you know, six, seven years ago. Part of what I wrote in there was my journey through getting my MBA. And I got my MBA in the time period of like 2009, 2010, when there was kind of a, you know, a crunch going on. And it became very clear to me that like an MBA education was very commoditized. If you didn't go to top five and have the alumni network, like all the value is really in the alumni network. Right. Then it just really didn't make sense. And from that moment, it just clicked with me like, whoa, we gotta take a step back. Like it is not just, education's the answer. So I'm, I'm fully on board with you there.

Ken Rusk (19:58):

Yeah. I think the one thing to remember there is if you can say to yourself, I'm going to school for this reason and I'm going to come out the other side with that job. Okay, good. You've got your path painted in, in clear vision in front of you. That's fine if you're going to school because someone told you to, and you're just going for one of those bland business degrees, and you're going to get really good at beer pong, but that's about all you're going to get out of college. You really better reevaluate the whole reason that you're going there. I had a guy that I rented a car from us several years ago, and he actually was part of the impetus for me starting to write this, this book. And this guy comes from behind the counter and he had a three-piece suit on from three different suits and he had his name tag on it. And he was really trying to put the great face forward. And I applauded him for that, but I had to wait for a while for this car. And he ended up telling me that he had $80,000 in debt from college. And here he is working at this rental car place. And he has no idea how he's going to pay that mountain often then start his life. And he said, I think I got railroaded a little bit here. I really wanted to be a carpenter. And I thought, how sad is that? How many kids are going through that right now? Where they think if I don't use my, my brains for college, my parents can be disappointed in me or society is going to be disappointing to me somehow. That's crazy. And I just, I felt bad for him, but again, that's, that's part of what you're talking about

Michael Gardon (21:27):

What, what you said there about, he was sort of waiting to start his life because of the debt burden. And I mean, that, it's sad. And I think, you know, again, one of the answers, if we open up our eyes and we think about skill acquisition, instead of prestige, to your point, like you can start to live your life today and come out the other end, you know, really, really well off. So you mentioned your book and it's called Blue Collar Cash. Love your work, secure your future, and find happiness for life. Talk to me a little bit about the impetus for the book. Talk to me about how it's helping people and what you hope that it will do for people.

Ken Rusk (22:07):

Several years ago, I was writing a letter to my daughter who is suffering from a pretty serious illness at the time, and she got over it and she's brave and tough, tough as nails. And I just thought to myself, okay, how can I help her see the future? How can I help her see what life is really what it should all be about? So I kept coming back with these words, comfort, peace, and freedom, which is kind of, kind of a triangle, cause they're all dependent upon each other and you can gain comfort, peace and freedom at any financial level. I mean, we're not all going to have 15 cars in a McMansion, in a mega yacht. Okay. And if you want that, that's fine. But I love meeting people who are totally calm, comfortable, peaceful, and free in their lives. And they have these really awesome, you know, they just hit the sweet spot for their life, their debt load, their stress level, you know, what they enjoy their hobbies, their charity.

Ken Rusk (23:01):

And that's just to me, kept coming back and showing itself. And if you kind of couple that with all the coaching I've done over the years, I thought, you know, somebody needs to tell these kids or, or even people in their twenties and thirties, if you start out with what you want your life to look like first, it opens up a whole bunch of options for you that you would have never even thought you would have had. And I've had parents come to me and say, I read this book. I gave it to my kid. He read it. And now we're having conversations that I would have never thought we were going to have. Okay. Real honest conversations about future and what it is that people want. It's just been a really great ride. And I've had a lot of people say, you know, I was stuck in a cubicle I to school and I'm five years in this cubicle and I really want to build furniture and you helped me get my side gig to a full-time gig. And I appreciate that. So it's been really rewarding to do it. I'm very blessed for having done it.

Michael Gardon (23:59):

That's great. I mean, I think it's coming at a great time. I've seen statistics and I can't quote the statistics specifically, but you know, number of people leaving their jobs is at an all time high, right. Voluntarily. Right. And so you see all these side hustles and all this literature on that, and I'm a product of that in the, in the tech space. And I think you're coming in and saying, absolutely, but you can actually do that here too in all of these different spaces and be outside and work with your hands and you don't have to start an online course. You can do, you can do it this way. And so I think that's fantastic. It's very complimentary. How does someone, like, let's say they're older, let's say I'm 40. So I come to you as a 40 year old and I've been in a cubicle and I've been working on a computer all my life. Right? Like how does somebody transition from that into a blue collar job, working with your hands as a carpenter or something like that? What advice do you have for an older person?

Ken Rusk (24:58):

I've had it done like three different ways. First off, there's just ripping the bandaid off and going to work and doing something you're happy about. And I have a very good friend who was making about $80,000 a year at this corporate job. He's now making about $61,000 working with his hands and he's much happier. Okay. So you can literally just rip the bandaid off and try it that way. Let's assume that you have a hobby that you really think you can turn into a business. Okay. And I mentioned the build furniture thing. There are people that have these side gigs and they have these, they build furniture and they take it to these fairs and shows on the weekend and try to sell it. Well, you can turn, it's never been easier as well to turn an internet business into something like that. And, and there's groups that can support you, like, like the wood preneur association and some of these other groups where you can actually get your goods and services and kind of put them on the marketplace.

Ken Rusk (25:50):

You're with other people that are just like you, that are trying to take their side gig and turn it into a full-time gig. So, you know, that's another way to do it. I just think you have to say to yourself, what's in it for me to do this. Okay. How much pain can I endure to come out the other side? And I think when you make that decision, there's something to be said, Mike, about the stand back moment and you don't get that in a cubicle. And what I mean by that is you go landscape a front yard plant, a bunch of beautiful pine trees and flowers and mulch it all in. You get to stand back and look at that and lean on your shovel and say, I did that. Okay. I built that outdoor kitchen, or I framed that house or I helped those people do this or that. And I don't think you get that when you're just part of a huge cog in a cubicle setting. So I think that's very important to keep that in mind.

Michael Gardon (26:37):

Yeah, it makes a ton of sense. One of the first jobs I ever had first real job that I ever had was the landscaper. So planting trees lay inside and all of that kind of stuff and working with my hands and being dog tired at the end of the day. And I will tell you, I still look upon that experience really, really fondly. I mean, it was one of the, I just hung out and the people that I got to hang out with and talk to all the time and, and just, there's something about being just dead tired at the end of the day. I think that's just really, really fulfilling. All right, Ken blue collar cash, love your work, secure your future and find your happiness for life. Really appreciate you coming on. Can you just leave us with leave our audience with how they can learn more about you find you order the book, all of those types of things.

Ken Rusk (27:27):

Yeah. So you can go to and check us out there. You can go to Ken Rusk official, which is our Facebook page, which we do a whole lot of career stuff on there. Talking about supporting people in changing careers or finding new careers or launching new things, you know, obviously run Twitter and Instagram as well. But I think for me, one of the things we're doing is we just built a quick eight week course. It's 45 minutes. It's 8 45 minute sessions, and we're going to be putting that out on the internet. So you can, you can actually take this book and then apply it to your own life. It's one thing to read a book, Mike, and you've done this and you put it on the shelf and then you go onto your life. It's another thing to take that book and put it into practical use for your life. And so that's what we're trying to do with it. So again, blue collar cash and you know, hopefully we can get some people change, how they're currently living there.

Michael Gardon (28:19):

That's fantastic. Really appreciate you coming on again and helping my audience open their eyes to just more options, right? More options that they have to control what they do for a living and what they do with their lives and how to get to where they want to go. So this has been great. I really appreciate it. And thanks so much for coming on.

Outro (28:40):

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