It’s time to bring back skilled trades as respected work


High schools today are way too oriented towards putting people to work in offices. Many students don’t want office jobs and will be far happier and more productive in skilled trades. High schools used to have shop classes. Sadly, such classes have almost entirely disappeared. This is self-defeating for our society at large. A skilled auto mechanic, machinist, etc. can make a good living and provide important services. A union carpenter in NYC can make $95 an hour. Top carpenters are every bit as skilled in their profession as seasoned computer programmers are in theirs. That carpenters don’t sit behind a desk means nothing about their skill sets and experience. (I am a computer programmer and have always viewed it as a skilled trade.)

Mike “Dirty Jobs” Rowe has a foundation that awards scholarships to deserving students wanting to learn skilled trades.

The mikeroweWORKS Foundation promotes hard work and supports the skilled trades in a variety of areas. We award scholarships to men and women who have demonstrated an interest in and an aptitude for mastering a specific trade. The mikeroweWORKS Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

The Foundation has given more than $2.5 million in scholarships to schools around the country, including Midwest Technical Institute, Tulsa Welding School, The Refrigeration School and Universal Technical Institute.

Matthew Chapman got the most votes for the 2014 scholarships. He has cerebral palsy, works construction, grew up on farms, and has restored two vintage tractors.

Southwire Co. in Georgia was concerned about getting skilled young workers given high numbers of local high school dropouts. They start a unique program where at-risk high school students work 4 hours a day at the plant making $9 an hour then spend 8 hours in company classrooms learning skills appropriate to their jobs.

Southwire worked with the local school district to recruit students and to design an academic curriculum that complements what they learn on the factory floor. The idea is to bring abstract concepts to life to make them easier to understand.

Physics and chemistry classes, for example, include lessons on electricity and the properties of electric cables. Students learn to perform quality-control tests on cables at an on-site laboratory

So far, it’s been working. More students are graduating locally. Some go on to college. Others go to work for Southwire.

From the Amazon review of Shop Craft as Soulcraft

The person who works with his or her hands submits to standards inherent in the work itself: the lights either turn on or they don’t, the toilet flushes or it doesn’t, the motorcycle roars or sputters. With wit and humor, the author deftly mixes the details of his own experience as a tradesman and then proprietor of a motorcycle repair shop with more philosophical considerations.

This is exactly like computer programming. Either it works right or it doesn’t. Skilled trades are mostly ignored by schools now. It’s time to change that.

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