Service of Skilled Trades—the Noble Professions

September 18th, 2017

Categories: College, Skilled Labor, Work


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:

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.


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

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4 Responses to “Service of Skilled Trades—the Noble Professions”

  1. Lucrezia Said:

    All the more power to manual, along with other powerful skills! But that’s only one side of the story. As humans, we should welcome all manner of skills, from menial to highly intellectual. Dropping of one size fits all myths, starting with the necessity of college degrees, is long overdue.

    Children should be encouraged to enhance their talents, with an emphasis on enjoyment of work, rather than being hectored with suggestions that parents will be heartbroken if Junior fails to add to the umpteenth generation of “Old School Tie” University.

    We are individuals, not cutout dolls. Let’s remember that.

  2. HB Said:

    My tuition at Yale my first year there in 1952, was only $1,150 a year, which paid for room and board, tuition, et cetera, et cetera. Now, the comparable number is upwards of $75,000 a year. The difference is far greater than what the depreciation of the dollar over the past 65 years has been, and never satisfactorily explained to me, which is another subject. Even so, I, and many of my peers, questioned then why we should be blessed with the extravagance of a college education.

    Simply put, I was expected to become a Foreign Service officer. My grandfather had had a successful, influential career as one, and retired at the top after 47 years of service, and he had not gone to college. Why should I need to spend all that money and time to do so?

    The answers our councelors and parents gave us varied but were usually of two sorts: For those destined for graduate school and the professions, “To acquire grounding in your field of choice and prepare for graduate school.” And for the rest of us, “To acquire grounding in the liberal arts. (ie: to ‘educate’ us.)”

    I find it odd that today one finds little talk about the latter as a reason to go to college, which may parenthetically explain the decline in size of liberal arts undergraduate offerings of their history and English literature departments and the like. If colleges are only glorified trade schools, why bother with them. Work and get the needed degrees at night school instead.

  3. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Trouble is, there’s a gap between manual skills and highly intellectual ones and most of us fit there. People will need places to live and skilled carpenters, electricians etc. to build and maintain shelter. While robots might at some point lay bricks and roofs etc., it won’t be for a while. So these are occupations to count on for the near future. They should be recognized as essential and thought of as first string by the public.

    With the exception of learning computer and film/entertainment/sports skills, how long will people have the luxury of paying $60,000+/year to learn to write, for example, if nobody is buying books or reading newspapers or cares if office communication is clear and most things are promoted in 140 characters or less and we rely on revivals for many of our plays and films?

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    By working while going to school at night few will run into the problem of hitting the business world with no experience. On the other hand, so many have resumes rich with internship experience at all the best places–but they learn that many of these companies have no jobs.

    In his TV interview Mike Rowe said that people have to move where the jobs are and be prepared to leave where they now live. That is one answer. For unfortunate reasons, there’s plenty of construction work in Houston and the Florida Keys. At one point North Dakota was in need of jobs. I lived there. The climate wasn’t endearing. But if you must feed yourself and your family…..

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