2018-10-10 / Opinion

In My Opinion

A greater need
BY RON HOUSTON,
LEXINGTON

The time has come again. We are in the throes of the biannual rush to the polls. Applicants from different philosophies are arguing relative merits for health care, weapon control, and the economy. There seems to be several points of consensus. We all know there is a need to fix the (expletive deleted) roads. And all parties seem to be in agreement that we need more people in the skilled trades. This is the topic of today’s discourse.

A common thread of these aspiring politicians is that we need more academic programs in order to swell the ranks. Of course, most of these well intended people have little experience in any daily physical trade skill-set. Most of us are under the impression that knowledge must be acquired sitting in an accredited educational institution. As a result of this ideal many students are saddled with an incredible amount of debt that takes years to be satisfied. A very common incentive is the promise of a well paying job. Perhaps there just might be better ways to fill the skilled trade dearth.

I have been fortunate enough to see quite a bit of the educational process. After four years of college and a stint in military service I realized that I really enjoyed working with my hands and I started working in the trades. After laboring as a cabinet maker-display craftsman, an economic downturn had me searching for another form of employment. I apprenticed as a jig, fixture, and machine builder. Further economic trials (growing family, manufacturing cycle downturn, company dissatisfaction) led me through several different trades, board drafting, CAD, CMM, quality control and finally engineering. The common thread is that once the basics had been covered through class time, learning by doing led me along. Most of the basics came through high school. Since I finished classroom time so many years ago many things have had to be learned and relearned. Some of my skills have changed over time. I no longer need to use a slide rule or log tables for calculations while the gifts of the Greeks (algebra, geometry, and trigonometry) went from bane to friend with use on reality projects. I have learned so much in the performance of employment.

The key here is that while organized education is a great start, it isn’t the only way to acquire knowledge. Where libraries are the depository of learning, so many questions can be answered with the click of a mouse. Apprenticeship is the traditional and successful method of passing skill sets to new practitioners of a craft. Working alongside others is a speedy way of reinforcing and augmenting what has been studied individually. The military successfully uses this method to train many people of different abilities to be capable of performing some very complicated tasks with sophisticated tools. “Learning by doing” puts the polish on studies. Guided participation in the real work world makes the goal complete.

I have noticed that people are always searching for ways to grow throughout their lives. This is why we seek stimulation through participation as well as observation. The need for skilled craftspeople still exists as it has for quite a while. It seems to me that a more successful approach to swell the ranks would be to offer greater opportunity to pursue craft. I have noticed a growing number of “maker marts” being developed around the country. In these sites interested people can find exposure under guidance by skilled counselors. For a reasonable fee you have safe access to machinery and materials. This situation, much like the training facilities of the Sanilac ISD, gives opportunity for hobby as well as professional growth in a less structured environment to a wider age range. Some are run for profit and some are community based. This would be a great opportunity for industry involvement and recruitment. As an adjunct to apprenticeship and exposure to alternatives for growth it would be fiscally responsible. I would appreciate some creative thought on this from our aspiring public servants.

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