By Carol Costello
In the 80’s movie, "Flashdance," Alexandra Owens couldn’t wait to leave blue collar work behind. It wasn’t long before she said “goodbye blowtorch,” hello “fame.” Yes, it’s old fiction, but it neatly sums up where we are today.
Kim Barbano graduated from the University of Miami in 2008 with a degree in public relations. She has yet to find a job, yet the thought of taking this time to learn a trade is incomprehensible. “I think there is a lot of pressure to go to college and get a typical day job. And that isn’t working with your hands,” she said.
Let’s face it, there is little real passion for becoming electricians, manufacturing engineers, high-tech welders, plumbers or custom construction workers.
“There are still hundreds of thousands of jobs in manufacturing, but unfortunately people who are looking for jobs don’t necessarily have the skills to get into this field now,” says Chris Kuehl, with the Fabricators and Manufacturing Association.
According to a June, 2009 study by Deloitte LLP and The Manufacturing Institute, manufacturing topped the list of seven key industries as most important to the US economy, but only 17 percent of young Americans desire a job in manufacturing and only 30 percent of parents said they would encourage their children to learn a trade.
Matthew Crawford, who has a PhD in Political Philosophy, is saddened by those statistics. He proudly works with his hands and has written a book about it: “Shop Class as Soulcraft; An Inquiry Into the Value of Work.”
“I think we’ve developed an idea that if work is dirty, it must be stupid,” he says. “I think we've developed a kind of a one-track educational system where every kid has to go to college. I think the truth is some kids who are plenty smart would rather build things and fix things.”
The challenge for manufacturers is to change that attitude. They’re trying to do that by aggressively recruiting kids in junior high—hoping to convince them to run to blue collar jobs instead of running away from them.