Where are all the plumbers?

A high school teacher told my husband that if he didn’t try harder, he would wind up as nothing more than a construction worker. This was and is considered a punishment for “lazy” kids. Well guess what? He does work in construction and he’s doing fine. More than fine, actually, he’s doing better than most people I know with graduate degrees. He’s also pretty useful to have around. When a 100-yr-old sewer pipe broke in our yard, we fixed it (now there’s a true test of a marriage – spending 2 days up to our ankles in sewage with no running water in the house). When we needed new gutters, we installed them. Our TV stand? He made that. When the pipes froze, cracked, and leaked, we ripped out half the kitchen, installed a new pipe, then patched and finished the wall.

Photo of me at work

We rebuilt a supporting wall in our basement (which included pouring a new foundation -that’s me in the photo vibrating concrete) and we’re in the process of digging a French drain under our porch. It’s taking us a long time to fix up our house because we both have full-time jobs, but we haven’t spent a penny on labor. His mom still wishes he would go to college, but she calls him every time something needs to be fixed, installed, or built.

Gen X is going to see a dramatic decline in skilled craftsmen as we get older, because this kind of work was actively discouraged when we were in school. In 2009, the average age of a licensed plumber or electrician was 55. Soon, these people will be retiring, and there are very few people ready to take their place. We’ve somehow created a society full of academics. College is considered so vital to future wealth and happiness that now you can be looked down upon for only having a bachelors degree (trust me, I know). How ever far we might have advanced as a society, we still need people to build and fix things, and I don’t see this changing any time soon. Lack of skilled labor has an impact on global economic growth, too, by impeding national infrastructure projects such as transportation and power. Despite the struggling economy, employers desperately need but cannot find skilled welders, electrical linesmen, geotechnical engineers, civil engineers, and more.

Gen Xers have a responsibility to break down the negative stereotypes that surround blue-collar work. Encourage your kids to make, build, and repair. Don’t force them into college because it’s what you did, and/or it’s what you think they should do. Be proud of their talents, even if they are non-academic, and help bring the honor back to skilled labor. If we don’t, we’re going to be in trouble in 15-20 years when our kids hit the workforce and there’s no one left to call when something breaks.