According to Forbes Magazine:
“The dearth of skilled workers threatens national infrastructure and industrial competitiveness. The nation is severely short on operations and maintenance workers who create, run, and troubleshoot everything from storm sewers to nuclear reactors. Ditto for the utilities, transmission, and pipeline workers.“
For anyone in the trades this isn’t news. There’s been a shortage of talented candidates for a long time. It’s partially our fault. The trades aren’t known for high-paying jobs, solid benefits, or clear paths to career advancement (even though the better companies offer these advantages). While the short term problems are obvious–come-and-go employees, an older workforce, and employees that just sort of “fell” in to the trades–the traditional means of solving them have not created the level of enthusiasm needed to attract the best and brightest job-seekers. It’s time to change the perception of what it means to work in a trade and re-dignify the effort and skills required to succeed in these fields. It’s time to re-brand and re-design the concept of what it means to be in “the trades” by looking back to a time when the men and women that worked with the tools were American Heroes.
Ingenuity! Working with your hands is a physical expression of solving practical problems. Anyone who has worked in the field knows what I’m talking about. An Installer or Service Technician is responsible for applying a manufactured product in an unfamiliar work space. Walking in to a customer’s home or a commercial setting with little more than field notes or a set of plans means you have to expect the unexpected. And the job has to get done on time and hopefully under budget. This isn’t a task for fools! It requires creativity, communication skills, trouble shooting, an attention to conduct and detail, and a never-say-quit attitude toward the task. In an attic, in a crawlspace, in red weather, on crowded sites–the people that make it happen in these situations demonstrate a remarkable level of ingenuity and experienced ‘smarts’ by combining their physical skills with their intellectual aptitude.
Strength! Not just the “lift heavy things” type of strength (although that doesn’t hurt). I’m talking about the kind of strength it takes to get up every morning, punch the clock, get in that van, keep your tools sharp and clean, maintain an exemplary level of professional conduct, and do what it takes to get the job done right. Every day. Even under tough circumstances. I’m talking about the kind of ethical strength that says “I’m not quitting until I know the job’s done right and the customer is satisfied.” The kind of strength needed to deal with a huge variety of personalities and expectations. The strength that grows inside a person after the work is completed and he steps back and smiles at a job well done. It’s what a person feels from a specific type of pride-of-ownership: “I did this. This is MY work.” Physical strength, yes. But that’s not tough to find. Rather, spiritual, soulful, ethical strengths that keep a guy going when jobs get bogged down, customers get cranky, and days run long.
Determination! As the poster says: “They don’t know all the answers but they’re willing to learn!” There aren’t any dot-com billionaires in the trades. There are, however, thousands of men and women who know what it’s like to pay their dues to reach a level of respect and accomplishment. There are countless journeymen who pushed brooms in warehouses. There are armies of service technicians who spent their time and money in trade schools across the country learning the theory and application of their profession before entering the workforce. There are legions of master installers who started out as duct cleaners and ‘crawl rats’ before earning their stripes. The trades have never been a place to find a one-rung ladder. But they have been a place where, by the time people reach a level of mastery, they know the scope of their job like the back of their hand. And that’s rare. And worth promoting.
Stability! Unlike the tech sector the trades can’t be outsourced. Again, according to Forbes: “The U.S. labor market lost 687,000 high-tech manufacturing jobs to overseas production — that’s a 28% decrease in the base of American talent capable of producing high-tech goods since 2000.” Over one quarter of high-tech positions have gone elsewhere. In today’s economy job stability is at a premium. A stable job that pays a fair wage means peace-of-mind and the ability to build a future. It means never having to hear: “We’re moving our service department to Indonesia this year, sorry.” These days, that type of security is invaluable.
There was a time when America needed to fill factories with men and women. We had to mobilize, make things, and protect our future. Everything was at stake. Ordinary people became heroes who rallied behind the most important cause imaginable. In the course of this mobilization American’s found dignity and purpose against a backdrop of global instability. America has done this before–we just lost sight of the trade’s true nobility. It’s time to hire heroes again.