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My Climate Journey
Switching Currents: A Journalist's Journey into the Skilled Trades

Switching Currents: A Journalist's Journey into the Skilled Trades

MCJ Skilled Labor Series with Nathanael Johnson

This episode is part of our Skilled Labor Series hosted by MCJ partner, Yin Lu. This series is focused on amplifying the voices of folks from the skilled labor workforce, including electricians, farmers, ranchers, HVAC installers, and others who are on the front lines of rewiring our infrastructure.

Nathanael Johnson has spent the past 18 years as an award-winning journalist who has written features for Harper's Magazine, New York Magazine, Wall Street Journal, and produced stories for the likes of NPR and This American Life. Recently, Nathanael has switched career paths and now is training to become an electrician. 

In the past, we've chatted with folks on the show who've spent decades in the trades, but we wanted to hear the story of someone who's earlier in their journey in the field. More interestingly, we wanted to understand the motivations behind someone's decision to make the switch from a computer job to a skills trade job, and the joys, misconceptions, challenges and rewards that come with it.

In this episode, we cover: 

  • [01:26]: How Yin and Nathanael got connected 

  • [02:37]: Nathanael's early exposure to nature and the “aesthetics of environmentalism”

  • [05:13]: His liberal arts education and cutting through jargon in academia

  • [07:43]: Starting his career as a newspaper reporter in rural Idaho

  • [13:13]: Nathanael’s journey to becoming a climate reporter for Grist

  • [15:01]: Falling out of love with journalism and discovering electrical work 

  • [17:51]: The clear and immediate impact of electrical work vs. uncertain impact of writing

  • [21:18]: Fears about switching careers and dealing with internalized class stigma 

  • [25:29]: How we can “dewire” cultural stigmas about skilled trade careers

  • [28:26]: The need to rebuild the educational pipeline and infrastructure for trade careers

  • [30:33]: The issue of representation and redefining what an electrician looks like

  • [32:20]: Nathanael’s advice on testing new career paths

  • [35:41]: Pay, schedule, job security, and work-life balance as an electrician

  • [41:47]: Nathanael's favorite moments as an electrician so far

  • Recommended Resources: Scott Brown Carpentry (YouTube Channel)

Visit our website for a full transcript of this episode.

Get connected: 
Nathanael Twitter
Yin Twitter / LinkedIn
MCJ Podcast / Collective

*You can also reach us via email at, where we encourage you to share your feedback on episodes and suggestions for future topics or guests.

Episode recorded on March 28, 2023. 

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