I Have a Gripe

April 30, 2014

What Ever Happened to Shop Anyway? Part Two in a Series

When I was in middle school students would do a rotation that included five different areas: wood shop, print shop, sewing, cooking, and music appreciation. I absolutely LOVED print shop. One of the first assignments we had was to create a ruler all the way down to a 32nd of an inch. It certainly wasn’t easy, but every time I come across someone who doesn’t know how to read a ruler, I think back to that assignment. Later on, we learned how to make a printing plate and we had to cut a print block out by hand. We learned why it had to be backwards and about the overall printing process. I absolutely fell in love with print! I still have that print block somewhere down in the basement with my other special things from school.

I also took all the other requirements. I made a napkin holder in wood shop, a pillow in sewing, and how to make a perfect omelet in cooking. As far as the music section – well, anyone who knows me that was far from my first or last introduction to music.

All of these classes were important. And while I didn’t become a professional seamstress or carpenter, they taught valuable lessons. Today, however, more and more schools are dropping shop classes in an effort to cut budgets, focus more on standardized testing and prepare students for college.

I grew up in a generation where many of my friends’ parents did not go to college. Those parents were proud to say “my child is the first in my family to go to college.” I remember being told as a child that college was the only way to get a good job.

While compared to college costs today, what my college bill was sounds like chump change, at the time it was certainly a lot of money. Today for a decent public college a bachelors program averages $30,000 per year – what two years at Seton Hall cost in the late 1980s. In today’s economy, what middle class family can afford that?

A few days ago I saw a story on Fox News that discussed the lack of skilled tradespeople are in short supply and can pay quite well. They also cited a statistic from the Manufacturing Institute that over 600,000 manufacturing jobs went unfilled in 2011. This is causing some states to rethink bringing shop and skilled trade classes back to high schools.

When I was in high school, there were multiple skilled non-college-prep programs – auto shop, wood shop, beauty culture, mechanical drawing, and more. What used to come out of that wood shop (what I would see most often because it wasn’t far from the band room) was simply amazing!

Not every student should go to college or needs to go to college. And more importantly, that doesn’t mean they aren’t smart. It means quite the opposite. Jobs like mechanics, pipe fitters, and welders to name a few are jobs that require critical thinking and creative problem solving skills. At the end of the day they can look at their accomplishments and see what they built with their own two hands.

I always loved the show Made in America. Hosted by John Ratzenberger, he would go to different manufacturing facilities all over the country to highlight all that is done in our nation. He has become a spokesperson of sorts for American manufacturing and skilled trades. He has even testified before Congress on the importance of supporting American manufacturing and vocational education.

Nuts, Bolts and Thingamajigs is an organization sponsored by The Foundation of the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association that helps promote skilled manufacturing trades as a career option. Their outreach is an important option for kids who are deciding what they should “be when they grow up.”

So what am I trying to say? Simply this. College isn’t, and shouldn’t be, the answer for everyone. Look at the underemployment numbers of the last few years. How many college grads do you know that are taking any job they can because they can’t find a job in their field of study. And most of those jobs do not require a college degree. Skilled trades jobs are challenging and provide great wages. Just another reason to think beyond what has become the “typical” life plan for many.

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