Not Everyone Is Created ‘Professional’

My friend and HR Pro, Kris Dunn, is fond of saying – “The world needs ditch diggers to”.

I got into a conversation with a couple HR pros recently regarding helping them find ways to find ‘unskilled’ talent for their company.  Today’s ‘unskilled’ doesn’t really mean having no skills – it means the person didn’t have to go to a four year college and get a degree to do the job!  What they need, also, wasn’t professional skilled trades – people who have to go through a certification process – plumbers, electricians, pipe-fitters, toolmakers, CNC machinists, etc.  We talked about a number of various marketing and employment branding things they could do to steal people from their competitors, etc., but the conversation for me always goes back to root cause.

Why?  Why can’t a company find semi-skilled labor when we have millions of unemployed people in this country?  Why?

Root cause?  Our society makes kids believe they only have two options when coming out of high school!

1. College/University route

2. Prison

I’m not joking!  If you look at what our country is doing to public education it’s completely insane.  A kid, who obviously doesn’t want to go the college route, has very little opportunity to learn a skill, or begin to learn a skill, before he or she graduates.  When I was in school, I was college bound from the start (underlying meaning – Timmy didn’t like manual labor!).  Still I was ‘forced’ to take multiple classes in my middle and high school around the skill trades.  I took wood shop and some basic auto repair class – but I had friends that spent most of their time learning how to weld, electrical work, rebuilding engines, etc.  None of these people are unemployed now!  The schools started early to identify kids who had the ‘knack’ for these skilled professions.

I have two high school boys right now.  Great students – neither of which have ever really lifted a tool, used a saw, a drill, changed oil in a machine, etc.  They have almost zero opportunity to do this in their school setting.  So, is public education the problem?  No.  We are the problem.  We equate success with college graduation.  We equate ‘doing better’ with a white collar job.  We equate importance to society by having a title and a desk.  I feel lucky my boys are good students.  I should feel lucky if my kids are passionate about learning a trade – professional or skilled!  Something has to change and it’s not our schools – it’s our mentality to what success looks like in our society.  I find myself envious of my auto mechanic, of my electrician and my plumber – I wish I had half their skills!  I would be proud if my son came and said he wanted to be a toolmaker.  Those are great jobs and skills to have, and as the baby boom generation continues to leave the workforce – more and more of those ‘skilled’ professionals are going to be needed.

As Aristotle said, “Where the needs of the world and your talents cross, there lies your vocation.”

3 thoughts on “Not Everyone Is Created ‘Professional’

  1. I love this post – it mirrors the conversations that happen at my house on a regular basis. One of my biggest complaints with the public school system is the lack of practical “electives” – I also remember when we had Home Economics for the girls and Industrial Arts for the boys in Middle School and High School – and while I don’t think that it should be gender driven, I would like to see those courses come back to the schools as requirements. Everyone should be able to cook for themselves (it might also help our obesity problem) as well as do routine maintenance tasks on our homes and cars. While it might be nice for the parents to teach us those skills, I don’t know that it’s happening – and unfortunately schools will once again need to pick up the slack. Not only do I have a Batchelor’s degree in Education, my parents were also educators – and they are the ones who pushed my children the hardest to go to college (as well as everyone elses’ child that they thought that they could mentor). My boys are adults now, and neither one profited from their first college experience (which lasted less than a year for each of them). My older boy went back to college as a young adult and has a career that he wouldn’t even have considered when he graduated from High School. My younger boy is in the Military, and is just now starting to pick up some college courses – and will probably end up in a skilled trade. While neither one will be a ditch digger, neither one is following the traditional college route to their career, and both boys will be successful in the long run – and neither one will have the large college debt to overcome.

  2. Tim – the biggest value I got out of my (music) degree was in the form of a network and ‘learning how to learn’. I’d say it was an important experience for me as a young adult but not mission critical. I became a programmer, and now I’m a business owner. Had I determined to do then what I’m doing now, I’d probably have a CS degree. And I’d be a monk.

    Here’s a recent (and interesting) NYT article about the education for chefs in Germany: It touches on the ‘alternative’ path for kids who aren’t destined for years of college loan debt.

    In the tech world (at least here in Chicago) there are alternative trade-school like experiences cropping up. Starter League and Dev Bootcamp are two immersive-style educations where people can pick up new skills and get a lead on a new gig. But, alas, they’re still young and I think there needs to be a more formal culture of apprenticeship and mentoring as well so the real-world application of the skill develops too.

  3. Ain’t that the truth! This couldn’t come at a more perfect time with it being graduation season. My newsfeed is flooded with pictures of caps & gowns and “we did it!”…but, no job (or even a plan). I’m with you 100%. The lack of trade skills being even mentioned as an option is just sad. Mind you this is coming from someone with a masters degree in higher education so clearly I buy into the whole college thing, just not in its current state. We knew early on that my brother wasn’t college bound, and that was OK. He’s a great mechanic now and loves it. Just like we need ditch diggers, I need someone to fix my car cause I sure can’t!

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