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Trades are more important than ever

The average age of a tool and die maker in the United States is 53 years old.

For those of you who don’t know what that is, tool and die makers are the ones who build and keep running the machines which produce everything from washing machines to widgets.

The average age of plumbers at 42-years-old and construction workers at 41-years-old is not far behind, followed by the average age of auto mechanics at 40-years-old.

A similar trend holds true in agriculture with the average age of American farmers pushing 60, while “new” farmers are about 46 years old.

America was built by men and women who weren’t afraid to get their hands dirty. Somewhere along the way, Americans lost sight of that. Instead of encouraging young people to go into traditional trades, the focus became sending them off to colleges to earn degrees, regardless if that is the right fit for them.

While there is no doubt that America needs doctors, dentists, lawyers and bankers. America also needs bakers, butchers, bricklayers and builders.

The dream for many generations of Americans has been to push students to work hard in school so that they can go on to college and university and not have to “settle” for working in the trades or on the factory floor. Along the way, there has been a vilification of trade and labor jobs as if they were somehow lesser occupations.

One only needs to sit in the dark waiting for line crews to restore power in a blackout, have their car refuse to start or their septic system fail to remember the jobs that are truly essential in keeping America moving forward.

While having the best of intentions to want the next generation to “advance,” the push away from the trades has missed the mark.

It is time to reset priorities. Instead of pushing college, and the often crippling student loan debts that come with it, as a society we must celebrate the skilled trades and work to make apprenticeship programs and hands-on learning at all levels the norm rather than the exception.

It is time to have business and industry work with the school system and offer the classes needed to allow for the seamless transition from the classroom to the workforce. Progress is being made in this direction and there are many wonderful partnerships in place, but more needs to be done on a larger scale.

The trades should not be an afterthought or a back-up plan for students, but presented as viable and important opportunities from a young age on.

This shifting focus needs to be adopted state-wide and engrained in the curriculum to encourage the sort of can-do ability that helped make America what it is today.