'When working was seen as an honorable thing'

July 25, 2012
By: Vicki Bell

You may have read the blog entry “Money and prestige” that was posted on thefabricator.com in June. The post discussed why more young people aren’t taking advantage of training opportunities such as the one being offered by Marinette, Wis.-based shipbuilder Marinette Marine.

This topic was the focus of the June issue of “Tube Talk”, and feedback from that newsletter was featured both in the blog post and in the July e-newsletter, which prompted yet more feedback, including comments from engineers and educators. These comments are very similar in nature and indicate that we clearly have a handle on why young people are not motivated to enter manufacturing careers. It’s what to do about it that continues to be a topic for discussion.

“Tube Talk” readers have a few ideas.

Joe said, “I am a welding instructor at a small college in rural, north-central Florida. I believe there is an inherent disconnect in attracting more people into the skilled trades for all the reasons mentioned (in the newsletter and blog post) by everyone who responded.  Ultimately it is a multilevel problem.

“First is not enough industry support, at least for the smaller welding schools—particularly those that do not charge 18,000 in tuition per student. And what I mean by industry support is input in the skills taught and the techniques used in industry. Also, financial support to help cover cost of materials, such as aluminum and stainless, that budgets at this level just will not allow for.

“You cannot rebuild the skilled workforce in inner cities alone; you also have to reach out to rural communities.

“Second is education. You’re told in school unless you have a college degree, you will never have anything, and you will be nothing. That’s what I heard when I was in high school and hear some of my students still being told that today. Tell someone long enough that they are nothing and they might start to believe you.

“With the escalated cost of college tuition, college will not be an option for as many high school graduates as in the past.  I believe more people will look to learn a skill.  There has to be an investment at both the high school and adult education/college/occupational program levels to provide the future skilled workforce an education that not only encompasses all the physical skills needed to perform their trade, but also the technological background to succeed in the future.

“And finally, I believe it has to be sold like it was after the great depression, where there were so many public works projects.  That’s where we really began with skilled labor. If there were public works projects—or any project really—that were sold to the public in a manner such as they were then, when working was seen as an honorable thing. And if companies invested not only in projects, but also in their employees. And if having a job meant you also could have and see your family. Then maybe you could compete with the way a college education is sold and attract more people into the workforce as skilled laborers rather than skilled orators.

“We have been talking about a shortage in the welding workforce for years; when are we going to do something about it?  It has to be more.”

An engineer from North Carolina, also named Joe, said, “The labor shortage can be explained very easily. The mentality of most parents in this country is all of their children must go to college to get a good paying job. The fallacy of this mind set is: 1. Not all children have the mind set to prepare themselves for college. 2. The cost of university study is climbing because of the high demand. 3. Not all children have the wherewithal to complete university study and earn the much coveted diploma. 4. Those individuals that do complete their studies and get a diploma cannot get a job because the study is not relevant to what is needed on the outside; the university has failed the student and left him with a college loan that will take years to pay back.

“What is needed is this—at the end of high school an aptitude test must be administered that measures the student’s ability to complete university study and includes material that will determine his aptitude for the trades: electrician, carpenter, plumber, etc. School counselors should then do their jobs and share the test results with the students.

“The high schools is this country have decimated the training for the trades, such as wood shop, machine shop, and welding. Not all students are destined for university study, nor do they have any opportunity to learn any sort of trade skill.”

All you Joes out there take heart. It appears that the tide washing the masses to college and away from the trades may be turning. A recent survey shows that the high cost of tuition has more people questioning whether it’s worth it to go to college. Nearly 57 percent of people think college is a good financial investment for young adults compared to four years ago when 81 percent thought so.

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Vicki Bell

Vicki Bell

FMA Communications Inc.
2135 Point Blvd
Elgin, IL 60123
Phone: 815-227-8209