Archive for the ‘Skilled Labor’ Category

Service of Skilled Trades—the Noble Professions

Monday, September 18th, 2017

Photo: oldbroadabroad.com

Erica Martell refinished a handsome wood chest, sanding, priming and painting it [photo below, center]. My friend’s research, patience, diligence, and results impressed me.

I envy the skills of carpenters, plumbers, electricians, builders, auto mechanics, landscapers, tree surgeons, bricklayers and stone masons who create and fix things. These professions need a great deal more admiration and respect than they get.

Mike Rowe Photo: mikerowe.com

In spite of diligent work by people such as Mike Rowe, I wonder if recognition of people who make a living via skilled manual labor has changed significantly. Chuck Todd interviewed Rowe on his MSNBC show on Labor Day. The actor, TV host, producer, narrator and writer’s passion was no doubt inspired, in part, by the 39 episodes of “Dirty Jobs,” a show on Discovery where he completed 300 different ones, according to his website. The show was his concept. He founded mikeroweWORKS on Labor Day nine years ago. He calls the program “A PR campaign designed to reinvigorate the skilled trades.”

In a recent Wall Street Journal article, “Fewer Americans Value a College Degree, Poll Finds,” Josh Mitchell and Douglas Belkin reported that the “wage premium of getting a degree has flattened in recent years,” according to Federal Reserve research. “Some Americans believe that learning a trade offers more security than going to college.” The survey of 1,200 took place in August.

Photo: 123rf.com

Respondents who were most skeptical about the value of a degree were those who didn’t have one. “Four years ago, men by a 12 point margin saw college as worth the cost. Now they say it is not worth it, by a 10 point margin.” Americans 18-34 who don’t believe outnumber those who do 57 to 39 percent—a figure that hasn’t much changed.

They reported that 63 percent of college grads said college is worth the expense—about the same now as in 2013. Nevertheless, there’s the matter of student debt, that Mitchell and Belkin quoted as $1.3 trillion—with $millions of payments in arrears. Yet, according to the reporters, unemployment is 2.7 percent vs. 5.1 percent among college grads and those who never attended college respectively, “But the wage premium of getting a degree has flattened in recent years,”

I think the prestige relating to physical work can and should change—do you? In countries such as France waiting on tables is a noble profession so why not skilled trades here? When it comes to making a living, do you see the value of a college degree? Has the significance of such a degree changed in your mind? Do you wish that you were skilled at a manual trade?

Erica Martell’s refinished chest

Service of Control

Thursday, August 2nd, 2012

onoffswitch

The subject of control has come up in countless posts and I’ve been told that the word relates to me.

One Friday morning I heard from two readers that the night before they hadn’t been able to access this blog. It reminded me how dependent on others we are. Had I known Thursday night, I wouldn’t have been able to fix things or explain what was wrong.

Mind you, I’m grateful to WordPress for giving me an easy way to publish a blog and I’m not in any way criticizing it for a glitch that never before happened and may not have been caused by them in any case.

typewriterIn the dinosaur typewriter days, if I ran out of ribbon at midnight before a paper or a proposal was due, it was my fault and I could have prevented that crisis by having a backup on hand. However, if my computer crashes with my work in it, my goose is cooked. I’m no IT expert.

But a computer is a zillion times more efficient than a typewriter and finding files a breeze in comparison to the paper-cut prone chore of leafing through innumerable files looking for a crucial memo, letter or press release. So I’m willing to live with the sword-or eraser-of Damocles poised to virtually wipe out my work life in an inadvertent tap of a key.

But there are some areas we seem to be losing control where we don’t need to be.

toolboxIn “A Nation That’s Losing Its Toolbox,” an essay Louis Uchitelle wrote for The New York Times, he recognized the “dilution of American craftsmanship” that occurs between self-stick, precut remodeling products; colorful but “not-so-serious-looking” power tools and installers at the ready at big box hardware stores.

He wrote, “This isn’t a lament – or not merely a lament – for bygone times. It’s a social and cultural issue, as well as an economic one. The Home Depot approach to craftsmanship – simplify it, dumb it down, hire a contractor – is one signal that mastering tools and working with one’s hands is receding in America as a hobby, as a valued skill, as a cultural influence that shaped thinking and behavior in vast sections of the country.”

I have the energy, but neither the patience, intelligence nor the skill to be handy and that has always frustrated me.

It’s one thing to say that we can’t afford to manufacture things here because wages are too high and it’s another to give up on skills handed down father and uncle to son, daughter, niece and nephew. If nothing else, the labor price is right and you control the outcome of a project when you paint the house or install flooring and windows yourself. Do you agree?

 fathersonworkshop

Service of Skilled Labor

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

HM Byington wrote this guest post. Byington is a retired international banker and an officer of J M Byington & Associates, Inc.

The respected British popular historian, Paul Johnson, is the author of many thoughtful, well selling commentaries on the modern world and what many consider to be the finest history of Judaism ever written by a non-Jew.

In reply to a question asked him during a recent C-Span interview, he admitted that the unemployment problem in the United States (and by inference in Western Europe) was certainly caused in part by our having exported many jobs requiring skilled labor to the Third World.

However, he also argued that our unemployment woes would best be cured by our focusing our considerable intellectual competence and expertise in capital formation on inventing and selling new products and ideas to the rest of the world, instead of trying to retain, whether by subsidies, tariffs or other means, our traditional leadership as a dominant manufacturing nation.

This is not a new idea, and is one often put forward by politicians and business leaders to explain away the problems that the dismantling and exportation abroad of much of this country’s industrial base over the past 30 years have caused.

I strongly disagree.

Almost all new products are refinements of existing products. They come about because someone skilled and proficient in their manufacture has a bright idea about how to make something better. They do not come like lightning bolts out of some academic think tank.

A fine violin must be played regularly to maintain the beauty of its tone, and the mind is not dissimilar. A sharp mind remains sharp if used, and if pushed usually becomes even sharper. A skilled laborer remains skilled if he uses his skills as anyone who has learned a foreign language can attest. If you don’t use a language, you lose it.

There is also the psychological issue. Someone who is un- or under-employed is likely to face debilitating anxiety or even depression. A craftsman who can no longer practice his craft is in danger of losing his will as well as his skill.

Some 50 years ago, along with other young Foreign Service officers, I took part in a seminar at the Department of State at which a futurist made the point that the gravest problem that the United States would be facing in the next century would be its need to manage the massive leisure time that its citizens would be enjoying. I never forgot his prediction, and he turned out to be right!

Just take a look at how much time and money so many of us devote to seeing the latest in films, on television and in spectator sports, playing computer games, surfing the internet, talking on cell phones, listening on iPods, poking BlackBerries, twittering and blogging, attending theme parks, going on cruises, shopping at malls, and on the darker side, consuming social drugs and alcohol, or just sitting around. If government is not our most formidable industry, then leisure must be. Unfortunately people at leisure are likely neither to be skilled nor productive, and even worse, our young have learned to mimic them. (Witness the decline in educational standards in this country.)

I suppose one could argue that this will not be a real problem as long as those skilled people abroad now providing us with much of what keeps us happy (and lending us the money to pay them for it) will continue to go on doing what they are doing.

However, I believe that we are in far greater peril than we dare imagine. It is an inevitability of nature that the most skilled will always come to dominate the least skilled, and we live in a world of diminishing resources and expanding populations.

If we are to survive at least with some of the freedoms we still enjoy, we must at all cost rebuild our skilled labor force and defend it against the inroads of those who would put the making of short term profits before the long term well being of our society.

Does anyone agree with me?

 

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