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Trade Apprentices -Available Americans or New Illegals?

August 20, 2007

Secretary of Commerce Carlos M. Gutierrez recently said, in a press conference, "...it is clear that there are jobs Americans are not willing to do, or available to do."

While we have heard over and over again government bureaucrats talk about jobs that Americans won't do, it was interesting to hear Secretary Gutierrez also use the phrase, "jobs Americans are not available to do." What does this really mean?

To me and many business owners it means that too few "trade apprentices" such as plumbers, mechanics, carpenters etc. are coming out of today's high schools.

Last May, Deloitte Consulting wrote, "... Specifically, research finds: today's skill shortages are extremely broad and deep, cutting across industry sectors and having an impact on more than 80 percent of companies surveyed. Skills shortages are having a widespread impact on manufacturers' abilities to achieve production levels, increase productivity and meet customer demands. High-performance workforce requirements have significantly increased as a result of the skills gap shortage and the challenge of competing in a global economy, according to nearly 75 percent of survey respondents."

Why is this happening? I suspect that this is occurring because for the past decade or more, the "politically correct" crowd has insisted that all students should go to college, even if many preferred a trade rather than a professional career. As a result, shop classes have been shut down in almost all schools and more teachers are being encouraged to prepare their students for college entrance exams.

Also, as a result, more kids are dropping out of high school because they had wanted or needed jobs as soon as they graduated. But without the skills and training for working in the many trades needed, it is not easy to become an apprentice worker.

It gets down to one simple fact --- not enough schools today are teaching kids how to work with their hands. Too many children (and their parents) are being made to feel as second class citizens if they do not go to college. In past years, high schools along with private, affordable academies turned out graduates who were capable of entering all types of work. Since students would take several years of languages as well as complete courses of English literature along with civics, history, geography and all forms of math and business courses, most were prepared to enter either college or the business world. But students could also learn trades, how to work with their hands in mechanics, plumbing and other shop classes. They also studied music and arts, if they desired. Thus they could pursue good paying trades for a comfortable living, whether playing in a band or repairing an air conditioner or a car.

What do the trades pay in today's world? It varies by locale and some job seekers may have to move around to get what they want.

Here, courtesy of the Employment Policy Foundation, is a look at the best-paying occupations at varying education levels:

Top Paying Jobs That Do Not Require a High School Degree

Industrial production managers -- $36,000

Bailiffs, correctional officers and jailers -- $36,400

Drafters -- $36,000

Construction manager -- $33,600

Electricians -- $31,900

Top Paying Jobs for High School Graduates

Computer software engineers -- $58,900

Computer/information systems managers -- $56,400

Computer programmers -- $55,000

Network systems and data communications analysts -- $49,000

General and operations managers -- $48,000

Database, network and computer systems administrators -- $48,000

Good professional painters, mechanics, plumbers and carpenters are also supporting families more than adequately.

I believe that unless schools start helping American students who have no desire to go to college to become aware of these soon-to-be job possibilities as a result of basic high school training, two things will happen:

1.      More students will drop out of school and thus run the risk of joining gangs or turning to crime.

2.      Businesses will be forced to hire more foreigners from other nations to fill these jobs, no longer finding Americans available to do them.

We are all either immigrants or all descended from immigrants. Nevertheless, our current borders are porous, and as a result, illegal crossings are bringing in unskilled workers who are doing our agricultural work. However, as these illegal crossings continue, many illegal aliens are developing new skills in order to get better jobs. So we now see them branching out from agriculture or landscaping to the hospitality, construction and service industries. But, given the opportunity, along with proper encouragement from school administrators, teachers and counselors, the many American students heading from local public schools to the work force can take these jobs as well.

Many companies see the coming shortage of many Americans skilled in trades and are taking action. Richard N. Parsons, a former officer with Siemens writes:

"During my time as vice-president, Siemens Enterprise Networks, we implemented specific educational initiatives in partnership with community colleges, colleges and universities in the U.S. to provide critical vocational skills to our workforce. Germany is one of the world's leaders in vocational education and my company recognizes the imperative requirement for the types of skills you've outlined in your op-ed. We believed these skills were critical to our future competitiveness and we made--and continue to make--significant investments in this arena. Incidentally, Siemens employs 75,000 people in the U. S. alone (over 400,000 world-wide)...a great example of "in-sourcing"...a term you never hear from the Democrats and their union pals." (Mr. Parsons' office was in San Francisco although his headquarters was in Germany.)

Carol Ascher has written about another factor that also affects students, "...when schools tolerate absenteeism, truancy, tardiness, sloppy work, and misbehavior, they are not helping students establish necessary work habits. Although employers seldom consider grades or test scores, which high schools prospective entry-level employees attend can be important because of the social attitudes and skills presumed to have been taught."

In other words, tough schools that demand discipline help students to get better jobs and make more money when they get out. Parents need to support such schools.

So while there may be some jobs that Americans won't do, let's all work to make sure that there will always be available Americans for all good paying jobs needed by American enterprise to better serve our country. Work with your school systems and local businesses to make sure that this is happening. Good jobs mean less crime and happier families.

Isn't this what America is all about ---being able to enjoy the pursuit of happiness?

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Copyright ©2007 Lee Ellis