There was a time when a man could sum up his job in a few words. A coal miner. A plumber. An electrician. A cabinet maker. A chef. A lumberjack. A baker. A blacksmith. A cooper. Until recently, a guy could even call himself a computer programmer and most of us knew what that meant.
Make money. No skills necessary.
Today, people get MBAs and find jobs working for companies that only insiders can understand truly what they do. A lot of data is exchanged with other companies who, in turn, sell that data to other companies who outsource their end of that data to middlemen in India who then somehow manage to massage it and most likely get someone from the original company to buy it. At least that's how I think it works. Is anything really produced? Does it matter?
On the plus side, most of these companies have really cool logos and techie-sounding portmanteau names.
Let's try one. I am going to start up a new company called CollaborLife (TM). As the name suggests, and our mission statement reflects,
We aim to expedite labor in a collaborative environment while enhancing the lives of not just our associates, but the life of our planet itself.So, if you have an MBA degree, I'd love to discuss our future together. Your responsibilities will include managing innovation-flow and strategizing problem-solving techniques for the 21st century. Salary starts at $95K.
I'm having a little fun with this, but it illustrates a disturbing trend. The world runs because of people who are actually able to produce things. Without skilled workers, eventually the -ahem- planet will grind to a halt.
Children are rarely taught basic skills needed to make simple repairs, or worse, the critical thinking needed to even comprehend how such tasks might be performed. Chances are, even their dads are unable to provide simple instruction anymore.
Shop class? What's that? Ewww...
For the most part, schools have eliminated vocational training and shop classes. Kids are unable to even try metalworking or wood shop to see if they might find it appealing. When was the last time you saw a kid working on a car in his driveway? Or even a bicycle for that matter?
All of this comes on the heels of the generally accepted belief that All Kids Must Go To University. It's drummed into every child from an early age. Parents panic if a child's math grade falls to a B.
By no means do I intend to disparage the value of education. It is always wise to pursue the highest goals possible, but education and schooling are two separate things. The mistake many "educators" fail to address is that a Ph.D is not a reasonable goal or even a desirable goal for many (very bright, I might add) kids.
And where does this leave them? Well, these kids used to have the option to learn a trade. One that might fit their interests and abilities perfectly. Sadly, without even the opportunity available, they are left with a high school diploma, which is worth the paper it's printed on. They have no university prospects and have had no chance to learn a meaningful trade. We are left with two classes of workers: unskilled laborers and pencil pushers with master degrees.
So when an assembly-line worker discovers a leak under his sink on a holiday weekend, he has to scramble to find a plumber. When the IT Tech breaks the leg of his dining room chair (no doubt from obesity due to lack of exercise) he is clueless to repair it. Likely he will just buy an entirely new dinette set.
The revenge of the tradesmen
Carpenters are often looked down upon by "educated" folk as unintelligent people who never studied in school. Plumbers have been the butt (pun intended) of many jokes. Auto mechanics are typically thought of as rip-off artists who always tack on extra charges to the customer. Nothing like the honorable laborers who toil away on Wall Street.
Teachers discourage learning trades. Parents are frightened of the prospect. Even recent U.S. presidents continually prattle on about learning nothing but "math and science, math and science, math and science" and getting a university degree. The elitist implication here is that people who choose different paths are worthless to society.
More and more, job openings for skilled tradesmen are going unfilled. The irony to this is that we are headed to a day when people who have manufacturing and repair skills are going to be some of our most sought-after citizens. We have always complained about the high cost of hiring a plumber. Well, imagine having to double that fee due to lack of people willing to get dirty. It may get to the point where a guy who can hang drywall and cut a decent cove moulding can demand fees as high as a stock broker. That will truly be the last laugh.
Mike Rowe addresses the senate
Mike Rowe is one of my favorite people. Sure he's a celebrity, but he understands this problem well. He recently addressed the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, hoping to enlighten them on the dearth of skilled labor. It's a spectacular speech. And your homework. Take a few moments to read it here or watch the video here:
I hope that some time in the future, adults will finally begin to allow kids to explore opportunities available to them and stop micro-managing their futures. We can certainly begin to present these options once again. It would also be nice if Dad would pick up a hammer once in a while rather than a phone to call for help. At the very least, kids might begin to understand that anything is possible if you learn to live to your own standards and not someone else's.