- - Wednesday, April 1, 2015


Manufacturing has declined in the United States because the nature of manufacturing has changed. Hand labor can be and has been largely replaced by machines, and skilled labor has become even more important as a result.

The New York Times reported that when Apple developed the iPhone, it estimated it would need 9,000 engineers to oversee 200,000 assembly-line workers. Most of those 200,000 would be technicians and blue-collar workers. China and many other countries have plenty of skilled laborers, while we are lagging behind.

We produce the most business majors each year, but not enough industrial tradesmen, installation technicians, construction tradesmen, mechanics, welders, electricians or machinists to maintain the system. We have the two people rowing the boat and 7 people steering.

We have the ability to produce more than enough skilled laborers but are held back by negative stereotypes about blue-collar work. For years we’ve regarded this work as the domain of those who couldn’t make it to college and were thus doomed to be stuck at the bottom. In reality blue-collar jobs pay double out of the box what white-collar jobs pay ($21 per hour vs. $16 per hour, on average), require certifications or other documentation that takes six months to two years to complete and cost much less than a four-year degree ($30,000 vs. $150,000). Considering how many students rack up significant debt and then have difficulty finding stable jobs, this route offers a viable alternative.

The fix starts at the local level. We need to encourage our children, family and friends to learn these skills along with us. Any age or background can learn, and without disruption of one’s current life. Many local high schools and community colleges offer these courses already, and we should take advantage of them. Organizations such as the mikeroweWORKS Foundation’s Profoundly Disconnected and Helmets to Hardhats are also tools we can use. We need to start now.



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