Over three years ago, I wrote a column profiling an NPR article entitled “High-Paying Trade Jobs Sit Empty, While High School Grads Line Up For University.” The piece sounded an alarm: “While a shortage of workers is pushing wages higher in the skilled trades, the financial return from a bachelor’s degree is softening, even as the price – and the average debt into which it plunges students – keeps going up. But high school graduates have been so effectively encouraged to get a bachelor’s that high-paid jobs requiring shorter and less expensive training are going unfilled. This affects those students and also poses a real threat to the economy.”
It was that last line – “poses a real threat to the economy” – that caught my eye. For a progressive media outlet like NPR to recognize the dangers inherent in having an economy top-heavy with liberal arts and not enough of a foundation in the skilled trades was rather amazing.
As it turns out, NPR’s concerns were prescient. Here we are three years later, and the lack of people working in the trades is, indeed, posing a real threat to the economy. Even Yahoo admits the construction industry’s worker shortage is hurting housing affordability and supply.
For a long time I’ve lamented how little appreciated the backbone of America is. The people who keep this nation running – those working construction, plumbing, electricity, garbage, sewer, water, trucking, farming, welding, mining, ironwork, etc. – are simply not “seen” by the elites and are dismissed as unimportant. But disrupt the trades, and America is left without its backbone. That time has come.
The threat is two-pronged. The first issue is, apparently, one of ego. The trades have been mocked, scorned and devalued for decades, so fewer and fewer people have entered them.
“It’s a reflection of what we value,” says “Dirty Jobs” guy Mike Rowe. “Unfortunately, many Americans don’t value skilled labor. If you’re not grateful to the people who bring you affordable energy, plentiful food, smooth roads, heating, air-conditioning, steel production, or indoor plumbing, you probably won’t encourage your kids to explore careers in those fields. So why then, would anyone be surprised when millions of people choose to accept money from the government, instead of exploring ways to get the training they need to fill any of those open positions?”
Over the last few decades, the media, government, and (of course) universities have convinced us the only way to be happy, productive and successful is to get a college degree in … well, anything. Those who opted for vocational school were considered second-class citizens. Because of this irrational insistence that everyone go to college, there is a now severe shortage of skilled tradesmen. Ironically, those who concentrate their talents in traditional blue-collar areas can command high wages – often far higher than their liberal-arts counterparts.
In today’s highly charged atmosphere (“You must go to college or you’re a failure in life!”), we’ve forgotten how young people educated themselves for thousands of years. Whether you learned the art of the wheelwright or became a cobbler, your task was to become a valuable and contributing member of society, providing goods and services needed by others.
Most college degrees these days can’t make that claim of training people into necessary professions. And that, more than anything else, should make you pause before plunking down $100,000 for a fancy piece of paper.
The second and more recent issue contributing to the shortage of skilled tradesmen is the vaccine mandates from the Brandon … er, Biden administration. These ridiculous demands are decimating – absolutely decimating – the ranks of endless occupations, including skilled trades critical to our national infrastructure.
Of course, the Brandon administration is pretending to be clueless about cause and effect. While we face a massive shortage of truckers, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg bleats about how roads are racist. As gas and energy prices skyrocket, the administration pretends shutting down more pipelines is no big deal. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters in October that things were in short supply because people have money to spend. Isn’t that nice?
And now, even though a federal appeals court ordered a halt to Biden’s vaccine mandate on larger private businesses, the White House is telling businesses to move ahead with the plan anyway.
“The supply chain catastrophe is exacerbated by energy prices skyrocketing in direct response to Biden admin policy and the reluctance of American energy producers to start new projects with left-wing extremists running the government,” writes R. Mitchell on Conservative Daily News.
And it’s likely to get worse. “It is important to understand that in most of these industries a loss of only 10% of the workforce would lead to disaster,” writes Brandon Smith. “Right now, many ports and companies are looking at a worker loss of 30% or more. This would cause the supply chain to grind almost to a halt, and there’s nothing Biden or state government can do about it because most of these jobs are skilled labor requiring years of training and experience. There is no pool of skilled workers waiting in the wings to take these jobs. There is no contingent of national guardsmen qualified to fill them. There is no group of qualified foreign workers they can ship into the country to take up the slack who can also speak English well enough to function. There’s no one.”
This imbalance between blue-collar and white-collar jobs is real. We’re approaching the point of no return, where there simply aren’t enough people in the skilled trades to keep America running. We’re top-heavy in the number of people whose job it is to pick apart every corporate headquarters for violations of “equity,” and not nearly enough people to transport goods or build homes or mill wood or install plumbing. And those who are working in these fields are being forced out due to vaccine mandates.
Where do we go from here? I guess we’ll find out over the next couple of years.
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