Friday, February 25, 2011

Will blue collar workers be in the green?

Anytime you use the term "green" nowadays, people automatically think it's going to be about the environment. This post is not about that.

Rather, it's a post about a discussion that DB~ and I have periodically. As a teacher, DB~ talks with other teachers and parents of her kids about what kids do after high school. There is now a school of thought, which DB~ is warming up to, that says that kids should be directed into trade schools or 2-year schools to get skills in blue collar jobs.

There are predicted shortages, both in Pittsburgh and nationwide, in the blue collar fields like plumbing, HVAC repair, masonry, and welding to name just a few. As the workers in these fields age and get closer to retirement, there is not a backlog of young people ready to take all these jobs because the common perception is that type of work is "not working to your fullest capabilities."

I couldn't disagree more with that idea. These types of jobs are vitally important, not only in our day-to-day lives (your ceiling is leaking because a pipe froze while you were on vacation, but your normal plumber has too much of a workload) but also in advancing our region and nation further into the future.

However, the part I struggle with is that it is almost posed as if ALL kids should be going to trade schools instead of going to college. The theory presented to The Squiggle is that colleges are flooded with kids who simply shouldn't be there scholastically. They are there because that is what is expected of them by their parents or society, but in reality they can't hack it. But they'll stay there for a few years, drive their parents or themselves deep into debt, then come out with no useable skills.

In the meantime, that kid could have been going to a trade school or a tech school to learn a useable trade and make a very competitive wage in the real world.

I'm not saying that the next Will Hunting should be thrilled with doing construction work instead of pursuing the Fields Medal in advanced mathematics. I'm simply saying that there is value and pride in doing jobs that are "blue collar". Most of those jobs pay equivalent to or greater than jobs that require college degrees, too.

So take a look at your kid (boy or girl) or niece or nephew next time and really think to yourself "Am I pushing him into college when maybe he should go to trade school?" It's a discussion that I've already had with my own nephew who is 17.

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