Like most of us, I am oblivious to the craftsmanship behind the opening of a door, the turning of a faucet handle for fresh water, or the illuminating of a dark room by the flick of a switch.
But on the third Friday of every September, I am reminded by Irwin Tools and National Tradesmen Day to say “thank you” to the trade’s people of the world for their expertise and skilled contributions to the infrastructure of our working society.
Robert Williams of Strategic Work Systems Inc. said craftsmanship results when highly trained, skilled, and knowledgeable workers use tools and machinery to perform their work, or trade, with the highest levels of quality and appeal.
And to professional tradesmen it is more than an occupation; it is an essential part of who they are as men and women.
I was rarely in the company of my late grandfather, a man who spent over eight decades using his hands for more than pocket stuffers, when he was not contemplating his next project, perhaps an oak wash stand for my mother, a book case for my sister, or another lighting fixture for the hallway.
National Tradesmen Day was designed to highlight men like my grandfather, men that are startled awake each morning by an alarm clock and a day’s labor, men that understand the mystery of machines, carpentry, and electricity with the knowledge and steady handiness to manipulate it for functional use.
And these are not replaceable skills, but they are dwindling every day.
According to a report issued by Forbes Magazine, American high schools have largely shifted their focus to preparing students for four-year colleges rather than vocational school.
“Just as training to become a welder or computer controlled machine operator isn’t for everyone, pursuing a college degree doesn’t fit every student’s skill set,” said Forbes Contributor, Joshua Wright.
Could it be the skilled trades have been hijacked by the blind pursuit of education and the four year school?
In an interview with the Houston Chronicle, the interim dean at Houston’s Community College, Genevieve Stevens said, “For two or three generations, the focus has been to go to college, get a degree and in doing so you will ensure a brighter future with more access to employment.
“We started focusing on academic instruction, but left behind the notion of work-force education. However, in a two-year institution that costs less, the average work-force student can come out of that program with skills to gain immediate employment.”
Let’s hope Irwin Tools and National Tradesmen Day reminds us that saying “thank you” may not be enough. We must place an emphasis on the need for skilled workers and their essential place among the workforce for both today and tomorrow.
This country’s industry, businesses, and infrastructure will continue to suffer if the decline in skilled tradesmen is not turned around. We must retain our current hands and resupply them through relative vocational programs beginning at the earliest stages of education.
Society must know gainful careers are possible in the skilled trades and we cannot function without them.
And to quote Robert Williams once more, “Imagine where we would be today in the globally competitive marketplace if we had a highly trained workforce thinking and acting on reliability versus repairs. Imagine if we revived the essence of old-world apprenticeships combined with proven skills development methods from World War II and the most modern equipment and technologies in the world. Imagine. Then, imagine our world without craftsmen. Imagine.”