Want to Solve Labor Shortage? Focus on Cultural Bias

Originally published by: RemodelingAugust 27, 2015

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There have been encouraging signs that America’s attitude towards those who don’t go to college is changing.

I recently read an article in The New York Times by Nelson D. Schwartz titled Rising Appeal of Apprenticeship, with the tag line “Vocational Training Offers Alternative Path to Middle Class, and Replaces Student Debt With Sometimes Highly Paid Training.” I almost started crying.

When I was in elementary school I got placed in the college track. School was easy for me. At the same time I loved working with my hands. In high school I took mechanical drawing, wood shop, and maybe one class on business. The rest of my education was getting me prepped for college.

I had started working for a contractor when I was 15 years old as an apprentice/laborer. I had asked this contractor for a job when I was 4 years old sitting on a dirt pile, watching him remodel the house next store. He said to come back when I was older and I did.

I did go to college but was too young and crazy to take advantage of the full scholarship and room and board that my grades had gotten me.

The unspoken message even back then was the smart people went to college and those who weren’t quite so smart did blue-collar jobs. The fact is I liked blue-collar work and was smart. And I was not the only one.

Over time, most high schools have shut down their vocational courses. I think that will turn around in the near future.

Why? Like the article I mentioned says, not all folks will become members of the middle class by going to college. Our country needs to help them have good lives by training them to do work that simply needs to get done.

How can remodeling be outsourced, to be done by an overseas call center? It can’t. Jobs like the ones your businesses provide can only be done hands-on.

The article describes a four-year apprenticeship program at the Newport News Shipyard. The company that builds ships there, Newport News Shipbuilding, started the Apprentice School primarily because there is no other way for it to get employees with the knowledge the company needs them to have.

Most remodeling contractors are not military contractors who can set up their own four-year program. However, each of you can make a big difference in your employees’ lives, particularly the bright young folks who need your company’s knowledge to earn more money.

Training and teaching can be a regular part of your company’s everyday work. Yes, that approach is not as formal as a four-year apprenticeship school but it is better than not doing anything.

Work with your community to bring back vocational training in your high school. This is under way in many parts of the U.S. Consider contributing some of your time and/or your employees’ time to such a program.

Invite young people to walk an active job site and to talk with you and your employees about the work being done. By doing so you could change someone’s life.

One day, apprenticeship programs will be common. Help our young people for whom college is not the answer by making the programs a reality sooner than later.


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