Blue Collar Workers Are In The Driver’s Seat

Blue Collar Workers Are In The Driver’s Seat

There was a time when people who worked in a trade were revered. If you were a carpenter or if you could work with metal or build a house or fix somebody’s plumbing, you were held in high esteem. You were also paid very well.

I grew up around a lot of talented tradespeople in my small hometown. Sometimes what they did looked like magic. They never seemed intimidated by a broken down car or a heating unit on the fritz. They just went to work and fixed it and they didn’t quit until it was running right.

But over the past few decades, something has happened. Blue-collar jobs, especially in factories, began to move overseas. Parents, seeing that this trend was afoot, encouraged their kids to go to college and get a degree in something that could make them a nice living. Many have followed that path, but, the truth is, the pot of gold at the end of the educational rainbow hasn’t been there for many. The high cost of a college education combined with backbreaking student loan debt have made it difficult for college graduates to prosper.

Doing blue-collar, physical work has also fallen out of favor. Somehow, we have come to believe that doing work with our hands is less important than work being done in an office somewhere. Our kids are apparently buying into that opinion because, as Baby Boomers retire from the trades, many of those important and necessary jobs are going unfilled. In fact, one study says there will be as many as 2.4 million unfilled blue-collar jobs between now and 2028.

So, if the laws of supply and demand still hold, then it seems like a good time for young people to at least consider the alternatives to college. The economy is booming and there is a great deal of opportunity for companies that employ blue-collar workers and their managers. There is even some desperation among these companies. They fear that they will not be able to grow and keep up with the increasing demand for their services if they can’t hire and keep talented workers. And so, they are beginning to sweeten the pot with more hourly dollars, benefits and opportunities.

For many young people, this may be the best career path in the long run. But, for this option to be considered we have to change the way we view these roles and these people. Their unique talents are not ours and that is crystal clear when we are faced with problems that only they can solve. Have you looked under your hood recently? It looks like a rocket ship in there. If it breaks, you’ll need a talented mechanic to hook your car up to his or her very complicated computers and figure out why it broke in the first place.

Car repair shops must know this looks like magic to their customers, most of whom have no idea what goes on in the inner workings of the car they drive every day. Many auto repair shops have taken to putting a big glass window in the waiting room so we can watch the highly paid experts work on our car and bring it back to life. I don’t know about you, but I can’t help but watch. And when they do bring my car around when they are done and hand me the keys, there is unbridled joy.  I’ll admit that I have actually hugged my mechanic and I’m OK with that.

I would contend that my mechanic is as special and world-class as any accountant or engineer. He has found his one thing that he does better than ten thousand other people. He has ignored the voices that encouraged him to go to college and get a degree. Or perhaps he went to college, but then bravely turned to his real love and began using his God-given ability to resurrect my car. Either way, I am grateful for him.

This scenario happens every day in many different settings in homes and factories and machine shops and oil rigs. Good people have learned a trade, found their calling and are doing it with joy. And we are the beneficiaries.

But the numbers say that there are not going to be enough of them if the current trend holds. We are going to need more of these amazing people. And because we do, the price is sure to go up.

If you are a young person reading this and pondering your life’s work, keep all your options open. The good news is you have many, and that’s another blessing for you to count. Contributor

It is a true privilege to be a columnist at Forbes. Forbes is a community of talented people with deep knowledge in their genre.

Don’t let naysayers’ narrow view of the world steal your joy in what you are accomplishing. You deserve to be there. Relish it!