It’s pretty much becoming plainly clear that our country is suffering a dearth of tradespeople in the economic community. There are factories and construction sites and businesses that are screaming for more tradespeople. There is a lot of resource material documenting the lack of one category of jobs available and the over-population of another category of jobs available – for example here and here, both of these have startling and even shocking statistics that are clearly showing the extreme void in one category of jobs – tradespeople. And yet, the lack of tradespeople training and this category filling with jobs still goes unfill, unanswered and not much movement toward filling this void area of jobs. Today a Bachelor’s degree costs about $100K (often more) and the starting salary is $54K/year. “K” in these terms is an abbreviation for $1,000 so $54K means $54,000.
When I was graduating from high school and looking for something to major in, (although a clear caveat here is that I was trained and raised to not support myself – I was raised to marry and have children and be supported – yeah I’m from that generation), we at least looked at choosing something that was at least a little closer to what the market wanted. Yeah, we could train to be a secretary, but having an education degree would be more likely to get us a job and something that would probably pay more money. Later generations began to look seriously at what the marketplace was dictating what we should study to get a good-paying job. Today, that information seems to go on deaf ears, as tradespeoples jobs go unfilled and untrained.
There’s almost a stigma connected with tradecraft type jobs as if they are lower pay because they don’t take as much smarts as a college student takes. Let’s look at that closer. The stigma is that someone who does something with his/her hands is way less smart than someone sitting at a desk looking at numbers all day long. Let’s face it, in today’s context and with today’s mores the job on the right looks far more successful, easier, cleaner and definitely smarter than the job on the left. The connotation on the left job is that this is what you do when you can’t do anything else – you flunked out of college, you can’t read that well, and you certainly aren’t smart.
But what’s really going on here? There’s more than just the financial aspect, or else throngs of people would be flocking to get training and do these jobs. There’s got to be something else going on. When you really stop to think about it, when your kids get ready to graduate from high school and go out – the first thing every parent thinks of is college – that’s it. There’s really no other choice. It’s like college is the next and only thing after high school. What would happen if your kid came home from high school and said, “I want to go to trade school and learn to become a welder….or carpenter…or plumber…or electrician…or car mechanic or even something like a dental hygenist…or chef…or radiation therapist…or HVAC tech!” What would you say – most often parents think – “Oh No! You want to go to college to get a 4-year degree cause you will make so much more money!” But that’s the problem – not only do these students make less money but they have huge college debt. The thinking that the student is going to make so much more money with a 4-year degree isn’t right, fair to the student and it’s not correct or true anymore.
There’s another stigma here too. It’s the one that if you have a 4-year college degree you are smarter than if you work as a carpenter or plumber. Well, I can tell you for sure that I personally know some folks that have not only a 4-year college degree but a doctorate on top of that and they haven’t got the sense to pour water out of a boot. If it wasn’t in a textbook that they learned to regurgitate from, then they don’t know what to do. This is not true of all of them, but to say that you can repeat what you read on a test makes you smart – well, it’s simply not a good test.
Let’s look at a tradesperson, who is trained in carpentry. She’s/He’s trained to learn some skills, but she/he has to take those skills and have the sense of how to apply them (BTW this is something that’s hardly ever taught in the 4-year colleges – how to apply the knowledge to the lesson learned). But with the carpenter (or any tradesperson) it doesn’t stop there, cause if the carpenter learned to make a desk, then the carpenter may very well have to do a shelf the next job, and a desk with cabinets and doors for the next job and a shelf with glass doors for the next job, and a desk with a corner credenza. There are a gazillion different ways to apply the lessons learned in vo-tech so that the tradesperson has to keep thinking about how to create a solution for the job that she/he is working on. Each job is different and as a result, requires a whole new set of solutions to accomplish the job.
Looking further into this, this task is referred to commonly as problem-solving. This task also involves a lot of thinking and the thinking exercise involved in problem-solving leads to not only prolonged life but a prolonged more active and more mentally-aware life. Well, who wouldn’t want that! From here:
The search for the fountain of youth has created a growth of anti-aging industry focused on vitamins and supplements, diets, gym facilities, mind training programs, and self-help books on Alzheimer prevention. The good news is that these things can work, especially if they are initiated early on while people are in early middle age, and in those with risk factors such as a family history of dementia or genetic predisposition.
But more than anything, problem-solving which is what tradespeople do every day has shown to substantially prolong life and make that prolonged-life as enjoyable, active and aware as possible. This makes the deduction that the tradesperson who is constantly problem-solving is going to lead a much longer and more enjoyable life than the person who sits in the office all her/his working career, retires and sits at home for a year or so then develops life-challenging problems (stroke, disability of another kind) and dies.
Now, the truth is that what’s happening here is that we are all made to believe that this 4-year college degree is the end-all. It isn’t. For some of the population a vo-tech or trade school is the perfect answer, for other the 4-year college degree is the perfect answer. The problem is that our society has skewed thinking in one direction. The other problem is that the preponderance of loan availability for the 4-year degree is as prolific. The thinking is that this makes the college degree more available, when in reality what it did was make it more expensive as colleges and universities have raised their prices astronomically.
a 1988 graduate of Harvard University would have spent $17,100 on tuition during their senior year. Now, in their 50s, they’d have to pay $44,990 in tuition for their child to attend Harvard today. More likely, the hypothetical child would pay the tuition bill themselves, as the rising cost of higher education has led Americans to struggle with a collective $1.4 trillion in student loan debt.
This gives us a more realistic take on this, where the student that prefers to do something with their hands can go to trade school, instead of the 4-year college degree. With a more competitive alternative to post-high school education (being that competition from trade schools), it is very likely that the tuition would be much more competitive and reduce in time.
But the cost is one thing. What’s really key here is to not steer a child from a prescribed post-high school education that is like an edict from on high, to what is more geared toward the students’ desire, likes and dislikes. Here’s a great story from MikeRowe’s Work Page on Facebook about Shelly. Shelly got the 4-year degree but wasn’t happy and see how she turned her life around.
Here’s another story that truly brings tears to my eyes for the joy this young kid is experiencing in his life. One of the quotes to look for:
If you work at something you enjoy, you will never have to work a day in your life!
Work Ethic WednesdaysMike. You’ve been all over the press lately, talking about how opportunity is “alive and well.” I’m sorry, but for people struggling to find a job, that’s a slap in the face. I’m twenty-two years old, and I can’t find anybody willing to hire me. Where are all these opportunities you keep talking about?Martin BravermanHi MartinI hear you. The existence of opportunity is an inconvenient truth, especially for those who can’t find it. It forces people in your position to wonder if maybe – just maybe – their circumstances might have something to do with them. I’m not saying that’s the case – I don’t know you. I don’t know if you’re lazy, or unlucky, or living in a place where the pickings are slim. I don’t know if you’re unwilling to move, or unwilling to take a position that doesn’t appeal to you. I don’t know if you’ve done something in the past to make you less attractive to perspective employers, or if your attitude has in some way turned people off. All I know for sure, is that 7.4 million jobs currently exist in this country – most of which don’t require a four-year degree. If you want the precise location of those opportunities, you’ve come to the wrong place. But if you want proof that hard work, a positive attitude, and a willingness to drive across town at oh-dark-thirty still pays dividends, say hello to Michael Gamez. He’s one of hundreds of people to receive a work-ethic scholarship from mikeroweWORKS. And one more inconvenient truth, to those who insist that opportunity is dead…Good luck,Mike
Posted by Mike Rowe on Wednesday, November 13, 2019
What is most key in both Michael’s and Shelly’s lives is that it is what they enjoy. Yes, you can get a further head start in vo-tech school for the money you put in, but putting a person who loves literature into a vo-tech school is just as much a crime as putting a person who enjoys mechanics into a 4-year college degree.
We need to get over this thinking that one vocation is better than another. What is really key here is to help a person choose a vocation that is good for each individual – don’t discount the 4-year degree for the person who wants it and needs it because it what she/he likes, but as well don’t discount the vo-tech education for the person who wants it.
Part of this is from my own experience. I experienced that push into a 4-year education that I never wanted. I had a learning disability and reading, particularly reading directions sent immediate shivers down my back that failure wasn’t something that might happen, it was something that was imminent. It was inevitable and only a matter of a short time before I would be exposed as stupid, ignorant and mentally retarded. And was eventually placed into the mentally retarded program in elementary grade school. The problem is by the time I got to high school I set the curve on the math tests but was in the basement on the English and literature tests. I was sent away to school and immediately it was discovered that I was dyslexic and learned how to read with my LD and how to learn well. It was a very basic and beginning program, but it answered the question as to why I was scoring so low on application tests.
Then came college, and of course, it was expected that I would go to college or university. A vo-tech or trade school was not in the option. I actually chose a trade school, and my mother was horrified. There was more going on there than simply trade school vs college, but that’s a whole other story. So off to college I went, and as I couldn’t study what I wanted, I studied art, but the truth is that art like some sociology degree, wasn’t going to do much for me finding a job. So I went out on my own found a job at a bank where I was gainfully employed by the marketing department for 7 years. It was fine, but it wasn’t my life dream. Enter my mentor, learning to sew, getting some much-needed therapy to get my mind straight with what I wanted to be, the bust in the local economy and boom – the push to finally end up where I should have been out of high school – owning my design company.
For me, I look at where I am in my seventh decade on this planet and blame most of my feistiness and vim and vigor on the very fact that I work at what I love. The thought of retirement didn’t even cross my mind till way after my retirement age and my thinking was that I could sew, stitch, assemble, draft patterns, draw sketches and perform all the other functions of my business as well as I did in my sixth and fifth decades maybe a little slower, but still the same. So why quit what I love? I jump out of bed every day with a whole list of fun things to do – customers to see, students to teach and new ideas and techniques to explore and work with.
It took me almost 30 years to get there, but I did. I feel a lot like Shelly here and part of the reasons why Michael’s story resonates so strongly with me is that it’s easy to see what he’s doing is what he loves.
This is what we should all want for students coming out of high school. Let them do what they want – of course, this isn’t sitting around collecting social welfare and spending it on lottery tickets, it’s really more at the vocation, the desire they have of what they want to do, what they can do, what they enjoy doing, that matters. What really matters is the job and the enjoyment of doing the job. It’s what keeps us feisty.
It’s what keeps us living longer.
It’s what keeps us active.
It’s what keeps us much more satisfied with our lives.
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