Fixing Things at an Early Age Helps Feed Interest in Skilled Trades

Editor’s Note: The following remarks were made on The NEWS’ group, The NEWS Network, on LinkedIn.

The reason most techs are 50-plus is because that generation grew up learning to use their hands. Hard as it may be for some readers to comprehend, the 50-plus generation lived with black and white TV, three channels, and no a/c. We entertained ourselves by messing with our dad’s tools, fixing the chains on our bicycles, and building Heathkit radio sets. With manufacturing as a mainstay of the middle class, working with one’s hands was a common and noble concept. Fast forward 40 years. You have 128 high-def channels, Internet games, a/c, and what kid even knows where Dad keeps his tools anymore? The U.S.A. has all but given up on manufacturing. Teachers won’t encourage kids to learn a trade. Parents cannot conceive of little Johnny or Jane not going to college. Heaven forbid they do manual labor! If this career track isn’t even on the radar screen by the time a child enters high school, it will be an accident that they enter the profession because they will be on the college prep track. And so the pool of potential recruits is restricted to those who fail to go to college and who already have an uncle in the business.

I believe exposure to the trade needs to begin as early as junior high. Contractors need to get into the schools for career days and expose educators to the fact that both brain and manual skills are engaged in this field. Compare us to Germany — there trades are respected, kids are tracked into vocations early, and preparation is thorough. I don’t believe we can ever fully eliminate the hardships of working in the field. But my goodness, we have gotten soft. … It’s really a small part of the population that gets outside and works up a sweat anymore. However, efforts by ACCA, NATE, and others to raise the profession and, in turn, wages does make the hardships more worthwhile. If we can somehow grow the pool of potential recruits so it includes higher-caliber talent, we can solve the issue of skills training. If it was ever true, there is no single silver bullet to solve this problem. It’s going to take a complete rethinking of how we present this issue throughout the lifecycle of potential technicians. ’Nuff said, I’ve got work to do.

Jim Rutz
VP Marketing & Sales at Magic Aire
Wichita Falls, Texas

Publication date: 10/17/2011