Making American Skilled Labor Great Again

Published August 24, 2018

For decades, vocational training has been waning. Fortunately, the Trump administration is dedicated to reversing this troubling trend. In 2017, President Donald Trump launched his first effort to restore vocational pursuits with an executive order that would, “Expand apprenticeships and vocational training to help all Americans find a rewarding career, earn a great living and support themselves and their families.” Furthermore, in 2018, Trump identified the pressing need for an American Renaissance in vocational training, stating, “You learn mechanical, you learn bricklaying and carpentry. We don’t have those things anymore.”

Skeptics claim that Trump’s pro-manual-labor measures are unnecessary. These critics argue that the progress made in automation and technology has lessened the value of the trades. They correctly point out that interest in manual labor has stalled and therefore claim that the pursuit of labor by one’s own body is consequently obsolete and irrelevant.

However, is it possible that the tech culture explosion has suppressed genuine interest and diverted talent from the traditional trades? Vacancies for vocational jobs have skyrocketed because there are so few qualified applicants. Since 2010, vacancies for carpenters, electricians, welders, and several other similar professions have been the highest among all industries. Furthermore, the average age for vocational employees has increased dramatically. Skilled trade workers older than 45 comprise more than 53 percent of the vocational labor force. On the other hand, the national average for employees older than 45 in all other industries is 44 percent. If this alarming trend is not addressed in the near future, Americans will have a rather difficult time finding qualified professionals for home repairs and other necessary services.

Not only is the market for skilled tradesmen wide open, but it’s also quite profitable. For instance, Garrett Morgan is a twenty-year-old ironworker currently living in Seattle. After completing a vocational program, Morgan was soon hired by Pacific Northwest Ironworks. While his friends languish in college, saddled with debt, Morgan earns about $50,000 a year with good benefits and a pension.

Morgan’s success story is far from an anomaly. A recent study by Georgetown University’s Center for Education and the Workforce uncovered that there are a staggering 30 million jobs in the United States that don’t require degrees, and pay north of $55,000 per year.

An additional and unexpected benefit of manual labor is that it ranks very high in job happiness. Research shows that workers in skilled, manual labor take great satisfaction with their work. There are many personal testimonials from those who are leaving white-collar jobs to pursue vocational enterprises. Evan Lundy, a former lawyer, made the switch to making and selling draperies and furniture. Lundy stated that “In high school, I would have never said that was what I would want to do, down the road. But as you mature, your priorities change.”

Another factor making vocational jobs more attractive for many Americans is their palpable outcomes. Unlike many white-collar jobs that are devoid of concrete results, skilled labor provides a work environment for those seeking fulfillment by making items and improving the world around them. Kevin Tyschper, a former network planner and inventory manager, embodies this mindset. Now a full-time baker, Tyschper stated that “There are tangible results. When I developed a fiscal forecast, I didn’t always see those results. When I make a loaf of bread, I see the results. I can firmly taste those results.”

The opportunity to engage in a fulfilling and rewarding job exists in modern America. There are ample positions in the skilled trades. However, the unfounded negative connotations about these jobs alienate far too many Americans from seeking a career in this forgotten field.

If American businesses and educators follow Trump’s guidance to open more vocational schools, offer apprenticeships, and promote the dignity of blue-collar work, the United States will be better off. As entertainer and carpenter Nick Offerman stated, “What we’ve lost sight of is that performing manual labor with your hands is one of the most incredibly satisfying and positive things you can do.” Fortunately, there are millions of positions in the skilled trades across the United States. It’s time Americans realize the trades are a viable career path that involves meaningful work while earning a good salary. Who wouldn’t want that combination?