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The Case For Working With Your Hands 386

theodp writes "At a time when the question of what a good job looks like is wide open, a book excerpt in the NY Times magazine says it's time to take a fresh look at the trades. High-school shop-class programs were dismantled in the '90s as educators prepared students to become 'knowledge workers' in a pure information economy. Was this a huge mistake? A gifted young person who chooses to become a mechanic instead of accumulating academic credentials is now viewed as eccentric, if not self-destructive, complains Matthew Crawford, who took his University of Chicago PhD and opened a motorcycle repair shop. Princeton economist Alan Blinder argues that the crucial distinction in the emerging labor market is not between those with more or less education, but between those whose services can be delivered over a wire and those who must do their work in person or on site. The latter will find their livelihoods more secure against outsourcing to distant countries. As Blinder puts it, 'You can't hammer a nail over the Internet' (never say never). Guess we all should have paid more attention to Nicholas Negroponte's landmark-in-retrospect Being Digital (ironically, no Kindle version)."
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The Case For Working With Your Hands

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  • IAAC (Score:5, Interesting)

    by PatrickThomson ( 712694 ) on Sunday May 24, 2009 @08:19AM (#28073871)

    I am a chemistry graduate and I've always said that for a high science, chemistry is very blue-collar. Let's look at the facts:

    We are on our feet all day and work with our hands.
    Most people I know in the field have burns, scars, or callouses.
    We listen to Radio 1 all day.

    'course, I wouldn't do it if I didn't love it.

    • Re:IAAC (Score:5, Funny)

      by Jurily ( 900488 ) <jurily@g m a i l . com> on Sunday May 24, 2009 @08:36AM (#28073947)

      I am a chemistry graduate and I've always said that for a high science, chemistry is very blue-collar. Let's look at the facts:

      You wash your hands before going to the toilet.

    • Depends what you mean by graduate, and a BS in chemistry is worthless and will get you crappy quality control jobs. You have to get a higher degree to do anything with chemistry that a trained chimp can't. I'm a chemist too.
  • by hodet ( 620484 ) on Sunday May 24, 2009 @08:31AM (#28073903)
    I don't have any regrets with my path and have had a long happy IT career but if I had to start over I would definitely get a couple of trades. So many opportunities to start your own company and thrive if you are good at it. Lots of hard work but the possibilities are endless. Look at the big expensive houses in your area and I bet there are quite a few "company" pickups with construction company advertising on them in the driveway. Of course you have to enjoy what you do, but how many kids today would have loved this kind of work, but didn't consider it because they were discouraged to?
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by timeOday ( 582209 )

      Look at the big expensive houses in your area and I bet there are quite a few "company" pickups with construction company advertising on them in the driveway.

      Aren't those the same homes in foreclosure right now? It seems like construction is more cyclical than other industries. Auto mechanics don't seem to have booms and busts like that.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by kklein ( 900361 )

      Yes, you raise a critical point.

      Maybe we look down on the "grease monkey" at the Toyota dealership who comes out from the back, hands so dirty they'll never come clean, and tells us we need to spend one million dollars for what sounds like a minor problem to anyone who knows something about engines. But, take that same guy, give him some basic business classes (if he even needs them--a lot of people don't), and put his name on the sign over the garage. Now he's not a "grease monkey," he's a small business

  • Home econ even... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 24, 2009 @08:32AM (#28073911)

    So, with an undergrad degree in CS, and a masters in EE, and just about to get an MBA... I still am a shit cook. That's right, I am a horrible cook. I know some of you out there are probably excellent cooks, but I also think there are a LOT of us who think we are really smart, but still can barely make macaroni and cheese, fish sticks, or grill some chicken properly.

    Why has my entire educational experience skipped out on something so basic. Yes, it may seem that it is basic and a common activity that we should "just know how", but really.. sometimes you just need instruction on vital things that you wouldn't otherwise grasp. (such as hygene, or balancing your bank accounts, or.. maybe social etiquite or public speaking)

    They make us great engineers, but they completely skip over the parts of how to be good, well rounded human beings.

    • Re:Home econ even... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by cyber-vandal ( 148830 ) on Sunday May 24, 2009 @08:46AM (#28074007) Homepage

      My mum once gave me a book called "Cooking for Blokes" as a joke but it's probably one of the best presents I've ever had. It takes you through the basics from boiling an egg upwards to making various types of cuisine such as chilli, curry, Italian and Thai. I don't know how available it is in the US but I'm sure there's a "Cooking for Dudes" or somesuch available there. Learn how - it's very therapeutic, not to mention healthier.

    • by MoonBuggy ( 611105 ) on Sunday May 24, 2009 @09:20AM (#28074201) Journal

      When I was at school, aged 15 or 16, (not particularly long ago) they did try to teach us to cook. There were two major problems, however: it was under the heading of 'food technology', and the teaching standard was absolutely terrible.

      The problem with that title was all the baggage that came with it. The course required things like design briefs and so on, because they had shoehorned cooking into the same (mandatory and poorly taught) stream as woodworking and other similar courses. The idea of rotating between cooking, woodwork and a few other modules that don't stick in my mind was a good one, but they made it almost totally useless by the way they structured the exercise. The teachers might even have been competent if they'd been left to show us the practical aspects of how to make 'x', but I remain dubious about that.

      There was also a course called PSE (personal and social education). They have since attached about 3 further letters to the name, but the concept remains the same - a small amount of time dedicated to the teaching of general life skills as you suggested. It was also an absolute joke. Basically, just imagine a syllabus written by the hippie stereotype teacher from Beavis and Butthead and a government education minister. Their hearts were in the right place, but the implementation was a complete failure - the students didn't take it seriously, the teachers didn't know what they were doing and nobody really achieved anything. If they'd thrown us some useful factual information on these life skills rather than having a room full of bored teenagers sit and listen to feel-good crap that didn't really apply to their lives, it would probably have worked a lot better.

      My point, I suppose, is that any attempt at direct, practical education that I've seen has been chewed up and spat out by the same buzzword-wielding bureaucrats who think it's a good idea to set targets for the entirety of the school-leaving population to go to university, only for many of them to waste three or four years and a huge amount of money that could have been used learning a skilled trade as the summary suggests.

  • Very true (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Registered Coward v2 ( 447531 ) on Sunday May 24, 2009 @08:34AM (#28073929)

    A skilled trade is an excellent way to make a good living; and is a way to do what you enjoy. cars need to be repaired, plumbing fixed, houses built and repaired. Those skills are both valuable and not easily replicated if you do quality work.

    Of course, many trades require a pretty solid eduction as well. Mechanics once needed mechanical aptitude and the ability to work well with their hands; today it requires that plus an understanding of computers and advanced electronics / electrical theory.

    Unfortunately, people tend to look down as anything not requiring a college education as lesser work.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Let them look down but I'm hauling in 50 grand a year fixing bicycles. And my buddy is grabing a good 65 grand mowning lawns. We both started our life long business when we where 13 and 15 years old.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        And the good think is that both of the jobs you describe can't be outsourced so you have some security too.
      • by Nf1nk ( 443791 )

        And I have taken my BSME and some how transformed myself into a roofing consultant that pulls down 60K/yr. borderline working with my hands but a good feeling at the end of the day.

      • Re:Very true (Score:5, Interesting)

        by SerpentMage ( 13390 ) on Sunday May 24, 2009 @10:41AM (#28074703)

        Want to know what the sad part about this is...

        Let's say that you started making this about 18. This means by the time somebody who gets a degree hits the workplace and makes the same amount they are about 26. And they have debts to pay off, etc. So let's say around 30 they are pulling in the money.

        If we do the math, with your 12 years you made an entire 600K! And if you were conservative and did not spend too much you could still have half of it.

        Yes it is sad people look down on trades...

        My brother went to German trade school (Industrial Mechanic). Me on the other hand I had two left hands as a tradesman. I was always dropping my tools. My strength was thinking, and oddly enough finance and financial products.

        Though due to my German upbringing was never allowed to pursue it since it was not "real".

    • Re:Very true (Score:5, Interesting)

      by sleigher ( 961421 ) on Sunday May 24, 2009 @09:16AM (#28074175)
      People can look down on it all they want. I am sysadmin (unix/storage) now and have been for a long time. When the .BOMB happened I had to go into construction for a while to get by. I wasn't that happy about it then but I am very happy I did it now. The skills I learned have proved very valuable. I can build/fix whatever I want for my house myself, repair plumbing, do some electrical work, all from what I learned working for a general contractor. So instead of paying a plumber/spark $65/hr, I can do the work myself. Save money and have the satisfaction of a job well done.
    • Re:Very true (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Narpak ( 961733 ) on Sunday May 24, 2009 @09:41AM (#28074305)

      Unfortunately, people tend to look down as anything not requiring a college education as lesser work.

      I wonder if some of these people are the same people that are complaining that foreigners are coming over taking "American Jobs". Jobs that the educational system regards as inferior and that have a low social status. While perhaps not all jobs are equal; at least those providing maintenance of vital systems and vehicles should be provided with a serious educational alternative and not be treated like they are worth less than those with an academic degree. Being an electrician, for instance, might not be as "intellectually challenging", in the eyes of some, as taking a degree; but we need good electricians as much, or more, than your average university graduate.

    • Ya, I agree a lot of people do consider it 'mineral uneducated work', at least until they need their roof fixed or their plumbing stops working and they cant figure it out on their own..

      Of course back when i was in school, the 'computer techs' down the hall from our engineering classes were considered a 'trade' as well, to be lumped in with the HVAC guys and made fun of.. ( not that i did, but far too many so called "educated" engineers did )

      • Well the same kind of mentality applies. I can talk to the "Network Architects" at work and they can show me a drawing of how the network works and the design features and all that. The question is could they sit down and build it using the hardware and associated protocols? Doubtful... Big difference in thinking and doing..... I can think all day about how the electrical in my house works, and understand the theory behind it. But can I wire my house so that everything works, and I don't burn it down?
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Dun Malg ( 230075 )

          I can think all day about how the electrical in my house works, and understand the theory behind it. But can I wire my house so that everything works, and I don't burn it down? Maybe, but it is in my interest to have an electrician look at it to make sure. Not necessarily an electrical engineer.

          My father is an electrical engineer, and I am (among other things) a licensed electrician. The stories my mother has about him trying to do his own electrical work are hilarious ("how hard can it be? It's a simple AC circuit!")

    • Re:Very true (Score:5, Interesting)

      by HangingChad ( 677530 ) on Sunday May 24, 2009 @10:17AM (#28074529) Homepage

      today it requires that plus an understanding of computers and advanced electronics / electrical theory.

      My first thought reading your post was about BMW mechanics. They are well educated and well paid. The job requires a surprising depth of knowledge.

      If I was going to start over, I'd probably pick a trade fixing specialized industrial machines. It's knowledge that can easily be retrained in a number of fields and as more industries move to more automation, job security is not a problem. You don't see the copier repairman out of work very often.

      Mining machinery, oil platform systems, medical devices, robotics repair...any of those would offer opportunities to travel to exotic places and make a lot of money.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Kneo24 ( 688412 )

        Speaking of copy repair people:

        When I attended ITT (go ahead, laugh all you want), the instructors would talk about which jobs used to be the bottom barrel jobs in their day. In their day is was the guys who repaired copier machines. Then they mentioned these days it's not like that anymore. You need to have an in depth mechanical and electrical understanding of how it works. Copying machines are a highly specialized computer with a lot of mechanical parts.

      • Re:Very true (Score:4, Interesting)

        by RobertinXinyang ( 1001181 ) on Sunday May 24, 2009 @01:37PM (#28075943)

        You don't see the copier repairman out of work very often.

        Mining machinery, oil platform systems, medical devices, robotics repair...any of those would offer opportunities to travel to exotic places and make a lot of money.

        Wrong. I spent over ten years as a copier repairman. I then made the mistake of gong back to colege and finishing my BA. Th eresult is that I have never made as much as I made as a copier repairman and have spent over half of my time after completing college unemployed. I am now stuck in the school grind, working on my MBA in hopes that it wil help lead to a job.

        I have to say tha I liked working on copiers. I like working with my hands and I like machines. I disliked two things. The first was my knees were giving trouble (if you watch a copier thech, you will see that there is a lot of up and down). The second, and the big one, I was tired of the way I was treated. The cuustmers, the companies, and people who just know what you do all treat techs like idiots who are not capaible of doing "anything more" in their life. The subtule, and not so subtule, asumptions and associated treatment eventualy chased me out of the industury.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Bo'Bob'O ( 95398 )

        Of my 8 or so high school friends who I still keep in contact with who graduated between about 10 to 12 years ago: six of us went to school and got our degrees, one went into the airforce, one became a mechanic. Guess which two own their own their own home while which 6 are still puttering around still trying to figure out what they want to do or trying to finish school.

        Sure, had some of them really gone after it and known just what they wanted to do in school they could have been making more than any of us

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by smoker2 ( 750216 )
        A motor vehicle technicians course runs for 5 years in total. So college is required, just not degrees. And I feel that degrees are over-rated anyway. I know some really dumb people with degrees in esoteric subjects who can hardly tie their own shoe laces. And I know some people with no degree who can turn their hand to almost anything.
        When you think about it, human beings are designed as generalists anyway. I know there aren't many physical things/processes you could present me with that I couldn't figure
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Pax00 ( 266436 )

      I completely agree. I feel that part of the problem is with programs like no child left behind and what not that basically says that all students have the capacity to go to college. This is something that I feel is flawed near completely. Some people are just better suited to working with their hands and there is nothing wrong with that.

      These jobs are called trades for a reason. I personally feel that trade work is a great way to make a living or assist others. "Tell you what, I will fix your car if yo

  • Err... what? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DavidR1991 ( 1047748 ) on Sunday May 24, 2009 @08:37AM (#28073955) Homepage

    "the latter will find their livelihoods more secure against outsourcing to distant countries."

    No, no they won't. Sure it's not as easy to push manual labor elsewhere - that doesn't mean it can't happen: Look at the engineering and textiles industries in Britain. Sure, there were lots of them, and their staff did work "in person and on site" - but that didn't stop the industry being screwed over by workhouses in distant countries that could produce the goods for cheaper. While the British equivalents may well have 'survived' to some extent, the shops and companies wanting the goods produced weren't willing to pay the cash to produce in Britain, and bought their goods elsewhere (Chinese textile mills, for example). Voila: your job is gone, whether you're manual labor or working via a wire.

    • Re:Err... what? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Darkness404 ( 1287218 ) on Sunday May 24, 2009 @08:43AM (#28073989)
      Ok, lets say I'm a plumber, you have a clogged toilet. You aren't going to call some guy from China who will fly out and meet you there. Same thing with electricians, roofers, carpenters, etc. Heck, even the more "manual" parts of computer sciences (computer repair, sysadmin, help desk) won't be outsourced because someone has to plug in the cable, change the RAM, swap out HDs, etc.
      • ' have a clogged toilet. You aren't going to call some guy from China who will fly out and meet you there.'

        The way things are going with cheaply made crap ;^), I expect that soon they'll ship a new toilet from China by air and you swap it for the clogged one and ship the clogged one back! :)

        • And who's unmounting and mounting the toilet? (Which by the way is more work than simply unclogging it.)

          Oh, and unclogging is an easy job. You need two things: Industrial strength toilet unclogger, and one of those long "wires" that you can put into the toilet and twist, to drill trough it.

          But you *really* have to be cautious with the unclogging acid, because it burns trough everything. Toilet seats, pants, flesh, carpet, etc.
          Also do not store it anywhere, where anything else is. Because I know from own exp

      • No, the plumbing companies create a false shortage of plumbers, lobby the government for a new type of work visa, and get low paid workers from third world countries to come do the job for 30% of what Americans will do it for.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by nametaken ( 610866 )

          In IL at least you need to be state licensed to be a plumber, which requires time in apprenticeship, etc. You can't just ship in a bunch of workers from India, hand them tools and call them plumbers. God forbid you manage to get people here, sponsor them through apprenticeship, get them licensed, etc., and then they look at the union laborers and realize they can make a TON more. Then the plan goes to shit.

          By comparison they can ship someone in to do my IT work, no problem. There are no barriers to entr

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Diddlbiker ( 1022703 )
        But services do get replaced by goods. Goods that are produced cheaply in foreign countries. I'm not saying that plumbing goes that way, but other services do, or did.
        Shoemakers and tailors are virtually non-existent in the US - when clothes and shoes are worn out we simply replace them with something new. Heck, we replace them with something new way before that.
        Electronics: same thing. Who is spending money to have their 8 year old tv repaired when it starts to smoke. Who has an 8 year old TV?
        I can imag
        • Sure, but those goods get replaced eventually by services. Before the invention of the computer and electronic calculator, there were people who spent hours painstakingly doing math for tables. When the electronic calculator and computer were released to the masses, their job was almost obsolete. However, other fields opened up with the demise of the human calculator, programmers, etc. The demise of a service replaced with a good almost always gets replaced with more jobs in services than before.
      • by nurb432 ( 527695 )

        While i agree, consumer electronics is getting to the point you don't repair them, its cheaper t just buy a new one instead of pay someone an hourly fee close to 75% of the new shiny more powerful machine. When was the last time you had a TV repaired? Or a cell phone ( which also used to be stupid priced not long ago )

        While talking about businesses, in theory the box lasts until its depreciated, and when it breaks after that its dumpster food.

        Sure a few "repair careers" will be left, but 90% will be washed

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        Heck, even the more "manual" parts of computer sciences (computer repair, sysadmin, help desk) won't be outsourced because someone has to plug in the cable, change the RAM, swap out HDs, etc.

        Those jobs were not outsourced abroad, but look at what happened. A lot of local tech jobs were deemed not to be "core business" and got outsourced to firms specialised in such services. As a computer or software guy, suddenly you find yourself going from being an employee valued for your individual contribution whi

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by hodet ( 620484 )
      I didn't RTFA but I think they are talking about trades. How do you outsource the electrical and plumbing of a building project in your city to India? Local hands on work needs to be done locally. You are talking about goods being manufactured in a central facility for consumption in other geographic areas.
      • 'How do you outsource the electrical and plumbing of a building project in your city to India? Local hands on work needs to be done locally.'

        Waldoes []

      • H-1B visa (Score:3, Funny)

        by Colin Smith ( 2679 )

        How do you outsource the electrical and plumbing of a building project in your city to India?



    • I think they mean things like fitting windows, plumbing or car repair, where the job cannot be outsourced at all. Not factory work which was the first to disappear to the Far East.

    • The problem is that you're confusing "goods vs. services" with "in-person services vs. potentially-distant services". You can outsource production of goods (like textiles), and you can outsource information services (like programming), but you can't outsource "in-person" services (like plumbing).

  • Experience (Score:4, Funny)

    by Joebert ( 946227 ) on Sunday May 24, 2009 @08:39AM (#28073963) Homepage
    Before I was in IT I gathered work experience in running a cash register, detailing luxury automobiles, auto mechanics, every aspect of building and remodeling a home from building forms for concrete to putting an attic vent on the roof, landscaping and lawn maintainence, fast food, babysitting illegal mexican painters, and odd jobs doing things I don't even know what to call.

    Now if I can just find my way to put all of this together like Steve Jobs did with his background, I'll be good to go.
    • He had one thing not on your list yet: LSD.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Dun Malg ( 230075 )

      Now if I can just find my way to put all of this together like Steve Jobs did with his background, I'll be good to go.

      You need a brilliant patsy whose work you can take credit for.

  • by Vinegar Joe ( 998110 ) on Sunday May 24, 2009 @08:40AM (#28073969)

    No one want to discuss the fact that "average intelligence" means that half the people are at and below average intelligence. The idea that everyone must graduate from high school and go on to college is the root of the problem.

    A simple used to be you could stop at a gas station and a couple of guys would come out, fill up your car, check your oil/water and clean your windshield. They didn't need a BA in business. What are these guys supposed to do now?

    • by nurb432 ( 527695 )

      They make happy meals now. There is still work for that segment of our population.

      • They make happy meals now. There is still work for that segment of our population.

        That is being outsourced also.

        The job of taking orders at the drive-through could soon be outsourced.

        Jack in the Box Inc. has been testing a program in some Charlotte-area restaurants that outsources order-taking to a call center elsewhere.

        Company spokeswoman Kathleen Anthony said the technology is intended to improve speed, accuracy and service. The San Diego-based restaurant chain hopes the process will free up on-site employees to process orders, accept payment and address other needs.

        Anthony said the orders are routed to a Texas call center operated by Bronco Communications, and she said some orders may be routed outside the country. []

    • by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <> on Sunday May 24, 2009 @10:07AM (#28074465) Homepage Journal

      A simple used to be you could stop at a gas station and a couple of guys would come out, fill up your car, check your oil/water and clean your windshield. They didn't need a BA in business. What are these guys supposed to do now?

      We're going to have to find a way for people to Not Work. Sooner or later nobody is going to have to. Eventually a robot will make a better burger than a person can make, et cetera. We have two possible futures ahead of us, the one where we're put into slavery and forced to work just to keep us busy, and the future where we find some new paradigm (sorry) in which it's not necessary for people to work all the time, or there are new things for them to work on.

      Just think about what happens when all the cars go electric... automotive repair will be practically restricted to body, paint, and suspension work. What are all the people who fix cars now going to do? Especially since body and paint work are becoming niche applications over time; some of the newest designs for vehicles use space-frame engineering with plastic body panels and molded colors.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Eil ( 82413 )

        We're going to have to find a way for people to Not Work. Sooner or later nobody is going to have to. Eventually a robot will make a better burger than a person can make, et cetera.

        People have been saying this since at least the industrial revolution, maybe longer. It was a load of bullshit back then. It is a load of bullshit today. If there's one trait that identifies Western culture more than any other, it's a misguided sense of entitlement. The idea that you (or your community) deserve something from soc

    • But, everybody does need to graduate from high school. At this point you can't even get into the military without at least a high school education. I'm sure there are jobs that don't require it, but they're few and far between, definitely not paying a living wage.

      As for college, the big mistake we made was by insisting that everybody go to college, but refusing to pony up the scholarship money to do it properly and refusing to ensure that there were enough jobs available upon graduation.

    • it used to be you could stop at a gas station and a couple of guys would come out, fill up your car, check your oil/water and clean your windshield. They didn't need a BA in business. What are these guys supposed to do now?

      From my experience, they've all become SysAdmins.

    • by artor3 ( 1344997 ) on Sunday May 24, 2009 @02:05PM (#28076195)

      A simple used to be you could stop at a gas station and a couple of guys would come out, fill up your car, check your oil/water and clean your windshield. They didn't need a BA in business. What are these guys supposed to do now?

      Live in New Jersey?

  • by xzvf ( 924443 ) on Sunday May 24, 2009 @08:44AM (#28073997)
    The reason education shifted to producing knowledge workers over trade skills is because those jobs were disappearing in the 80's and 90's. They haven't come back and are still shrinking as a part of the economy. When we had a construction boom, much labor was imported. Our desire for cheap meat means most of the employees at meat packing plants are immigrants. Automation and cost effective foreign labor is driving most factory jobs away. Technology in autos is creating a situation where you rely on computer diagnostics to fix cars. The slack from not having trade in high school is being taken up by community colleges, and most HS graduates need strong math and verbal skills to do the remaining blue collar jobs. Now that a large number of knowledge worker jobs can and are being outsourced because it is cheaper, we must adjust education again to create the next generation of workers once we figure out what they are. The early 80's made us shift education in the 90's, the late 00's will make us shift in the late 10's. We'll have to wait to see what innovations come out of this downturn to figure out what the next job boom will be. Sorry, there are just not enough plumber, mechanic, or carpenter jobs being created that we can all move back to the 1960's.
    • by johnlcallaway ( 165670 ) on Sunday May 24, 2009 @11:10AM (#28074887)
      Correlation is not causation.

      Let me toss in a couple of anecdotal stories that might explain some of this. My wife used to work for a construction company. White, middle class boys would come into get a job and quit after the first week because it was harder than they thought it would be. One guy left at noon his first day for that very reason. My son refused to work at McDonald's because he felt it was beneath him. And I don't see any white boys standing on the corner looking for landscaping work. My step-son is unemployed, yet he refuses to do it.

      Maybe the reason those foreigners are taking those local jobs is because many Americans don't want them. Some have gotten too elitist to do a day's worth of manual labor.

      Yes .. the pay is poor. It always has been. No one ever got rich working as a landscaper, unless they got really, really good at it and could charge a premium and started their own business.

      Someone in IT who is taking home a really good salary needs to make sure they are worth it. Not just in terms of what everyone else is making, but in terms of giving more in value back to the company than what they are being paid. I remember a young fresh-out-of-college job applicant telling me she wanted to make 80K a year 'because that's how much she can make in Boston.' I said we don't pay that much in Portland, Maine. She got visibly offended that I would even think of paying her less than what 'she was worth'.

      She was wrong, I didn't even think of paying her less. I didn't hire her at all because she wasn't worth even $40K to me and I needed someone with more experience.
      • by Nethead ( 1563 ) <> on Sunday May 24, 2009 @04:09PM (#28077163) Homepage Journal

        And we wonder why we have an obesity problem in the US?

        After decades in system/network admin I got off my fat ass and took a job installing DirecTV. Lost about 30# that first year. Beat but HAPPY when I got home. I didn't pay anywhere near what the desk jobs did but I felt a hell of a lot better about myself.

        Get your step-son to apply at DirecTV, they're always hiring. Yeah, it's hard work but you can take it anywhere and it won't be out-sourced. There is a lot of brain work involved too, no two installs are the same. It will really be hell in the Maine winters, hauling a 28' fiberglass ladder around in the snow but it can be worth it when you save the mom with three rugrats and no TV. Or when you upgrade someone that just got a new flat-screen and had never seen it work in HD before. How many jobs are there where 99% of the time you leave the customer with a smile.

  • by rpillala ( 583965 ) on Sunday May 24, 2009 @08:46AM (#28074011)

    People who choose to become mechanics instead of accumulating academic credentials are only viewed as eccentric in certain circles. I'm sure the satisfied customers (one hopes) at Dr. Crawford's repair shop will view the situation differently.

    If a resurgence occurs in the vo-tech schools, it ought to include some kind of component of entrepreneurship. I don't run a business myself, but I think this would include a larger helping of the academic subjects (a more math-intensive business program, with a calculus basis) than it does now or has in the past. My main issue with vo-tech programs is that they seem to prepare students to be easily supervised, but don't provide much in the way of mobility or independence.

    • As self fulfilling as that may be, it's horribly inefficient for people to take that route. I just shudder to think what happens to the people that want to get the doctorate for actual use that are prevented from doing so because somebody got it to work in a completely different field.

      It's hard enough to get into a good school without having to compete with people that aren't going to be using the degree for its stated purpose.

  • Whilst yes, I did indeed ignore the fact they're talking about repair/service trades, I think the point still stands, that you can never definitively say "My job is safe from outsourcing" etc.

    Whilst you can't outsource plumbing etc. what stops a massive multinational company from controlling the entire market? (In the same way super markets came in and killed local shops etc.)

    • Because services are hard to monopolize. You usually get a better deal with a supermarket than a local store, you get more variety, cheaper prices, sometimes fresher food, etc. With plumbing, etc. its a lot harder. Most local plumbers have all the equipment they need, there aren't many revolutions that will change the game in the next few years so those tools will keep working. Then there is the fact that the large company can't thrive in the smaller towns especially with the rising cost of gas.

      About th
  • Even though blue-collar jobs might provide some job security in that they can't be given to people far away, that same quality keeps you chained to one community, nervously watching your few vacation times fall away. The best part of working in a "knowledge economy" field is that you can go wherever you want whenever you want. Sure, I have to take steps to ensure I keep my job in an unstable economy, and I have to be prepared to jump to another opportunity if necessary. But it's a whole lot nicer to travel
    • It's the best part for you,not for everyone. Lots of people would rather spend their time doing other things then travelling.

      • I hear that claim from time to time, but in practice I've never met anyone who got the chance to travel freely and didn't take it, unless they were already shackled down by a spouse or children.
        • I hear that claim from time to time, but in practice I've never met anyone who got the chance to travel freely and didn't take it, unless they were already shackled down by a spouse or children.

          In that case, I'd like to introduce myself. I used to travel a lot (19 countries, sometimes a month or more at a time), but not so much anymore. No spouse or children. I still go places (planning a week-long scooter trip [] along Lake Michigan for this summer) but I just prefer staying at home most of the time. If y

    • But it's a whole lot nicer to travel most of the year and do my work from a laptop on some of the most glorious beaches in the world than it is to be trapped in a podunk town all but 1-4 weeks a year.

      So what do your wife and kids think about that?

  • Highschool (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DarkOx ( 621550 ) on Sunday May 24, 2009 @09:06AM (#28074111) Journal

    There were two problems with HS in the late 90's I know I was there. The first problem was this weird stigma attached to anyone who was interested in the industrial technology or shop courses. They certainly were viewed in a negative light by most of the administration. The instructors of those courses were treated badly compared to the other teachers as well. The pervasive view was that that those courses were offered for people who could never complete enough credit hours in academic courses to graduate any other way. This certainly was true for some of those students, Having told my parents and guidance there pleas to avoid these subjects were falling on deaf ears, I know that there were plenty of other plenty smart people in those programs who like me could breeze through just about and HS course except maybe a subject or two that did not come entirely naturally.

    The next problem was that they scheduled shop courses so they were only offered in periods that would conflict with the upper level academic courses. You could not take honors English and drafting, for instance. There was no way to schedule electronics and AP physics ( which ironically cover much the same materials ). The entire system was built to separate students into two groups and make sure that they never met again.

    Well after being on the college preparatory side of the wall for the first two years, in possession of a 3.9+ GPA, I elected to jump the shark. I am not going to pretend there was not some adolescent neo-punk motivations as well driving me in what I was being lead to think was a radical direction. I could always read whatever literature the honers English group was working, all you had to do was visit the library. I did that, I still had friends over there so I knew what they were doing. I could not as easily afford a serviceable O-Scope or a drafting table and tools. It made far more sense to me to "run with the tough crowd." I could just as easily grab a calculus book from the school library and build on the math skills I had. Which again I did because it let me understand things in my electronics course.

    I found most of the instructors of those courses were better teachers too. They had lots of problems the other instructors did not have. The biggest being all those kids who did not want to be there that had been put there for under performing in the other programs. Still if you were interested they were largely willing spend some extra time with you and go into the subjects in greater detail or let you work on your own more advanced projects for credit. They also were tell you when you made a mistake. They had all been there forever had tenure and nobody they could impress even if they were trying except us students. It was a much more honest and much more educational environment if you were as a student willing to participate and invest a little in it.

    Despite the warnings from the establishment, shunning for the other prep students, I turned out ok. I went on to attend a good liberal arts college, where I graduated with honors. I never regraded or felt I had done myself an disservice by my decisions in high school, much the opposite.

    We as a society need to learn some egalitarianism about knowledge. Its always good to know things. Sometime its more useful to spend your time learning one thing than another but knowledge is never bad. I am not some sorta hick because I can rebuild an automobile engine, frame a house, or any other odd skills I might have picket up. I can know those things still write SQL as well as one while I grow pale sitting in an office chair.

    People are generally better at things they are interested in doing. It takes all kinds to run a society and we should value all skills.

    • Re:Highschool (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Ralph Spoilsport ( 673134 ) on Sunday May 24, 2009 @11:03AM (#28074849) Journal
      I'm a professor at a university, and I would be proud if you were one of my students, except for one thing: you need to work on your spelling...

      Your points are articulate and well taken, esp:

      We as a society need to learn some egalitarianism about knowledge.

      This is true, and I would submit, present society is completely upside down in its priorities, as the future is NOT going to need vastly MORE information workers, financial planners, psychologists, public relations assistants, etc. The energy crisis will see to that. Over the next few decades, the people who can frame a house, esp. a solar zero-footprint house will be useful. Someone who can install solar pv cells will be useful. Someone who can install insulation will be useful. Someone who can retrofit a house with non-lead pipe will be useful. Someone who can install a slate roof will be useful. Someone who knows how to set up a high intensity permaculture food garden will be of value. Etc and so on.

      Assistant program managers for advertising sales account executives will not be useful. They perform no useful function as it is.

      Psychologists helping people find their inner child will not be useful. We will need people to find their inner adult, and that happens through hard work done well.

      Production assistants for crappy TV shows will not be useful, as there will be fewer and eventually no TV shows left that will be able to afford such luxuries. People will learn to entertain themselves and each other in a direct live and localised context.

      Dark Ox - I think you have it scoped really well. My only advice to you would be: learn how to play an instrument and sing as best you can. Then you'll never lack for entertainment. Guitar, flute, percussion, whatever - find some people (girlfriend/wife comes in handy here) who can also play or sing with you. Collect a bunch of songbooks. These become skills you can pass along, making society richer and better.

      best regards,

  • I can think of a few criteria.

    * Steady paychecks
    * Excellent benefits
    * No dress code
    * Only ever have to deal with cool, smart people
    * Don't even have to deal with those, most of the time
    * "Full-time" arrived at by working long hours for 5-7 nights, building up comp time at 1.5x
    * Comp time then gets used, resulting in a 5-10 day "weekend"
    * Unless you run out of comp time, no one expects to see you at the office.
    * Cool duties
    * Cool shiny toys (my new one is an 8.3-meter mirror - that's bigger than my house)
    * C

  • by bombastinator ( 812664 ) on Sunday May 24, 2009 @09:07AM (#28074123)

    The trades weren't pushed out of high schools because they were "retooling" they were pushed out because there was no money to teach them. Teaching trades requires expensive equipment that must be kept up and insured against accidents. Teaching IT requires obsolete donation computers that cost nothing and have very little upkeep. If Moore's law slows the donation computers will probably dry up too and then there will be nothing at all.

  • by Antique Geekmeister ( 740220 ) on Sunday May 24, 2009 @09:12AM (#28074145)

    Too many IT people have no clue when it comes to basics like stacking equipment, safely handling heavy loads, threading cables, or airflow. Worse, they're positively dangerous with screwdrivers, wrenches, or wire cutters. And basic mechanical skills lend awareness for programmers to the concepts of "big bulky modules that you have to leave space for", "leave enough slack in the interfaces for you to be able to put things where you need them", "leave in accessible test points where you can check your signals". And I'd vastly recommend basic electronics classes in "why clock signals lie" and "why you use _one_ voltage, _one_ data format, and synchronize to _one_ clock signal throughout your system". The lessons of "why would I do this as a bulky, parallel transfer rather than a serial transfer" are also illuminated by having to run your own wires.

    Like system security, such physical constraints are best learned early, rather than brought into the design after the fact when you've already laid out your circuits or your data flow.

  • Well, DUH! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by purduephotog ( 218304 ) <hirsch&inorbit,com> on Sunday May 24, 2009 @09:15AM (#28074161) Homepage Journal

    I mentor HS students. Most that I deal with are so incredibly incompetent that I am truly afraid for our society- these babies will be asking their parents to carry them out into the world with no prep.

    There are kids that don't know what a screwdriver is or how to use it. Seriously. I had to hold a session on how to use a screwdriver. Gave them a drill with a bit in it and they could not figure out how to drive the screw into the wood.

    This is also the group that would intentionally break their cell phones so their parents could pay the 50$ 'insurance fee' to get a new one. Just repeatedly drop the thing over and over and over and over.

    I also watched one of them stare at the table saw blade as it was rotating- asked him what he was doing- and he said he knows he's not supposed to but he was wondering if he could tap the blade while it was spinning- if he was fast enough (look up table saw finger injuries- you'll understand why I was sickened).

    Shop class, like gym class, should be mandatory for all students. So what if all they turn out is a crummy pencil holder- they did it. Want to make shop more interesting? Show them how to do CNC on wood- that's programming and wood working all in one go.

    Right now this generation is nothing but consumption- they'll play their ipods, their little online games, and they go on to college coddled the entire way without a single original thought in their body.

    Then again, perhaps I only see the stupid ones.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      I've mentored kids as well. One is in her late 20's, does artwork and raises oysters. The second one just graduated from SCAD. The youngest of them just finished his junior year in college, and is on the board of his Charter School. Personally, I went from engineering college to making jewelry, working as a designer and model making, and picked up CAD/CAM 10 years ago. Designing one off items for people is challenging, building those items, sourcing the materials, subcontracting specialty work, all require
  • by RonTheHurler ( 933160 ) on Sunday May 24, 2009 @09:23AM (#28074219)

    No matter what your profession, it seems that working with the hands improves anyone's problem solving skills. Boeing and NASA are now requiring R&D personnel to have experience working with the hands, no matter how strong their academic record is.

    Watch this video - []
    (20 minutes)

    The research linking the hand to brain development is found in the book - The Hand: How Its Use Shapes the Brain, Language, and Human Culture. By Frank R. Wilson.

    Here's another article about handiwork and education (left sidebar - Why should a kid build a catapult) []

    In my work I regularly get feedback from teachers who say that nothing has inspired their kids to *want* to study math and physics more than the catapult project they did.

    Considering the daunting issues we face as a culture, with Global Warming and the problems with fossil fuels, we need more and better problem solvers in the world than ever before.

    If it was up to me, shop class would be mandatory in every high-school, and it's curriculum would be coordinated with the physics and math courses too.

  • A mistake (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Groggnrath ( 1089073 ) <> on Sunday May 24, 2009 @09:25AM (#28074231)
    I for one wish every Engineer, and every Mechanical Engineering student had to spend a year as a mechanic. Once you realize how bad some things are designed from a repairability aspect, it changes your perspective on design. I've torn into many a machine, and seen bad designs first hand. Overcomplicated parts, too many parts, too many different size bolts and nuts, parts placed so close together you have to remove 10 things just to change a belt.

    The same could be said for any designer. I feel before you're able to design anything, you should be forced to use it, fix it, and understand the consequences of bad design. It would improve the quality of things that do get built.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Poingggg ( 103097 )

      So true! A saying I once read and never forgot: "The task of a design engineer is to make the work of a repair engineer as hard as possible"

  • Is colleges think so elitist sometimes that they look down on even teaching people how to TEACH people how to do trades. My college (Montclair State University) had one of the oldest tech-ed/vocational-ed programs in the country when I joined. The president erased the ENTIRE program and created a "Fine Arts Masters" program, breaking up our shops and labs into mini rooms that each FAM student got full use of, shunting tens of thousands of dollars of wood and metal shop equipment into those labs for FINE ARTS use only, most of which we as a department had paid for ourselves though the auto shop the school closed on us 2 years before.

    And what was their justification? Well NJ that year had changed the wording of the standardized curriculum from Fine AND Vocation arts to Fine OR Vocation arts, and since Fine arts was easier to teach in high school, there was no need for vocation arts anymore. The other justification? The US is not a industrial nation anymore so there is no need to teach kids how to work that type of equipment or in those trades. This was 2002 BTW.

    Oh and that curriculum change? The next year NJ changed it back, making only one out of ALL of its state schools, 3 of which had programs that dated back around of even before WWI capable of churning out teachers who can actually teach Tech Ed. Now NJ has to back door most of its vocation teachers and even then, nearly half the jobs are being left unfilled with more retiring every day.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by aethera ( 248722 )

      I find your post hilariously ironic. As a so-called "gifted" student, like an earlier poster I was prevented from taking any shop classes in high-school. But, I could sign up for theatre classes, and in those (since I had no desire to act) I learned how to use all the basic shop tools, as well as basic electrical work, lighting, and sound.

      I went on to get a BFA in theatre design, the only college curriculum that combined architecture, design, and engineering with actually producing the stuff you imagined.

  • I couldn't help feeling that the author was channeling Robert Pirsig. I kept expecting a lecture on "quality" at any moment.

  • You can't hammer a nail over the Internet

    Now... does that not sound like a challenge? I bet it CAN be done!

  • The real money in many of the fields is at the interface, the guy who can program controls and work on controls and know all about the inner workings of them, has a job at the manufacturer, but the guy who can fix it, who can work on equipment that is controlled by computers, is often getting a really nice paycheck. Ditto for the innovators who can invent upgrade etc. How much to install an ethernet? I know there was a quote for $10,000 to interface all our machine tools via ethernet. So there's about $1,0
  • There are a lot of factors that are contributing to this trend. Vocational programs can require expensive equipment. For example, the community college where I teach physics recently spent a large amount of money to upgrade its printing program to digital equipment. I'd also imagine that insurance would be more expensive for a machine shop class than for an English class. At the K-12 level in the U.S., they're so focused on standardized testing these days that everything else is going away: music, vocation

  • by BenEnglishAtHome ( 449670 ) on Sunday May 24, 2009 @09:59AM (#28074407)

    The article goes on at length to (rightfully) decry the chasm between work and the management of it, how actual tasks that are useful tend to get divorced from policy, procedures, and presence on the management radar. At its root, this attitude is what makes it possible to outsource to other continents. There's no longer a feeling that management and directing vision need to coexist in the same space in order to stay aligned and keep working well and synergistically. (And that may be the only time in the last few years I'd consider it appropriate to use that management-jargon-co-opted word.)

    Since the author is a motorcycle mechanic, I thought I'd toss this out. When I was a young man, bike enthusiasts were decrying the fall of Triumph. That once-great motorcycle company was dying. They sold few bikes. They had run through many unsuccessful models that weren't very good bikes when they were working well and didn't work well very often because they were poorly assembled. It was enough to make an old gearhead shed a tear.

    And then a story came out, perhaps apocryphal, that pinpointed the precise moment when Triumph stopped their forward progress and began their long fall. Some time in the early 1960s, so the story went, the upper management had gotten so successful that they started looking like upper management. They were driven to work. They dressed in expensive suits. They came to view themselves as businessmen. Or, rather, as typically happens with businesses as they become big, the guys who were bike lovers gradually got replaced in the executive suites by guys who were supposed to be good at the business of business, guys for whom the actual product was unimportant.

    Finally, one day, there was a big, routine board meeting and one of the last of the old guard, who had ridden his bike that day, showed up to the meeting room in full leathers. He was informed that such was not appropriate. A rule that "proper dress," specifically meaning "no leathers," was required at all business meetings. The break between management and the iron on the road was now complete. Management had been outsourced to people who were distant (mentally, emotionally, and philosophically, if not physically) from the actual work.

    At that point, Triumph was toast. It took years for the motorcycle brand to die. I remember one of the (perhaps the very) last bike they produced, a brilliant triple in sporting trim. I remember thinking it was a death rattle, the last gasp of a company that didn't know what in the bloody hell to do to stay alive and had, in desperation, actually let the engineers and bike lovers have a crack at producing something. It was far too little, far too late.

    What I'm saying is the same as, in part, the article. Not only is working with your hands a good thing, when any company is run by people who are *incapable* of hands-on work or, at minimum, hands-on appreciation of that work - the company is doomed.

  • I came from a relatively poor family, but was blessed with parents who were hard-working and skilled in many 'manual' areas. Whilst other kids were playing at the week-end, I was helping my Dad grow vegetables, fix the car, wire the house, whatever. Evenings after school were spent helping my mother cook, repair clothes, clean the house...

    I'm now doing OK, (thanks to them pretty much forcing me to get a decent education), and live in an expensive area. I'm in much demand when my 'professional' neighbours

  • ... and they get to have a van full of tools

    I wish I'd never gone to university - I regretted the first time and the second time - I should have been a plumber, met a not-so-nice girl and settled down to a real life.

    Instead I play at being an IT consultant and post to Slashdot.

    - Bah

  • While I'll wholeheartedly agree that there are too many physically incompetent people out there who have no clue how to change their own car's oil and then bitch and moan when Jip-me Lube screws them over for stuff they didn't need, being a skilled laborer does not lead to becoming a captain of industry. Quite the contrary, IMHO. What's needed is FAR FAR FAR less glorification of athletics and deification of a complete lack of musical talent and MUCH more encouragement towards scientific and engineering c

  • K-12 is reserved for learning the CORE curriculum and should be for all students. Skip the shop. Or at the least, allow it only in the last year. Personally, I think that shop should be done in Community colleges. Have a person continue for another 1-2 years and make the curriculum work for young AND old adults.
  • Duh. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jnork ( 1307843 ) on Sunday May 24, 2009 @01:13PM (#28075785)

    "High-school shop-class programs were dismantled in the '90s as educators prepared students to become 'knowledge workers' in a pure information economy. Was this a huge mistake?"

    Machines need maintenance. Buildings need building and repair. Pipes need plumbing. Trucks need driving. Plants need growing. Packages need delivering. Photos need taking and film needs developing.

    Hell, somebody needs to make a mug so I can put tea into it. Oh right, somebody needs to make the tea, too. And build and maintain the infrastructure that lets me get water out of a tap, start a fire under a pot (that I bought at a store that somebody built and somebody else stocks and inventories and keeps records for...), take the tea bag wrapper and put it into a landfill (assuming I bought tea bags this time)...

    Sure, theoretically we can automate all that. But who is going to build the machines to supply the automation in the first place? Somebody has to sling a wrench.

    What happens when 100% of our children are knowledge workers? Well, then we get 100% unemployment, because nobody is building the bloody computers for them to work on. Oh, they'll have to haul their own garbage, too...

    You could say that I think this is short-sighted and ignorant. How about bloody stupid? No, but you're getting close.

    See me? I'm an embedded software engineer. Firmware programmer, if you prefer. See, I like to work right down to the bare metal, and that means that I work with the hardware, too. I know how to solder and use multimeter and a 'scope. And wire-wrap, which is passe these days.

    And what did I just finish doing 15 minutes ago? I fixed the screen door so it would close properly so the dog couldn't just push it open and get out. Guess what body parts I used for that? No, go on, you'll never guess.

    I think EVERYBODY should have some shop time. Elective, my ass, at least a minimum should be mandatory. And what we used to euphemistically call "home economics" should be as well, everybody should get at least the basics of cooking and sewing and so on.

    I don't particularly enjoy sewing, but I can do it. By hand or by machine. And I'm no chef but I can make a few simple dishes and follow a recipe. Want my recipe for Bachelor Chow?

    What are we going to do, give all the non-knowledge jobs to illegal immigrants?

    Even if we do, I want to revisit my earlier remark about the unemployment rate. So for a few years there's a big surge in, hmm, let's say, yoga. "Yoga's the big thing, that's where all the money is! We can't see an end to it!" Advisors start directing everybody towards being a yoga instructor. A few years later we get a graduate class of nothing but yoga instructors, and guess what? THERE'S NOBODY TO INSTRUCT. Why? First, because the fad passed and everybody is doing Tai Chi. Second, because EVERYBODY IS A YOGA INSTRUCTOR AND DOESN'T NEED TO BE INSTRUCTED.

    Sheesh. It's like our entire society is suffering from clinical depression or something. Think, people! We need all kinds of thinkers and workers, not just one kind of person. OK, today we need a few extra specialists, but things are constantly changing.

    And not everybody can be good at the same thing. One problem you get when you turn everybody into a specialist at one thing is that you get a lot of really mediocre specialists. The ones with the native proclivity will take the best jobs and the rest will end up unsatisfied or unemployed.

    Don't plan for a specific future. When it doesn't happen, you're going to be stuck high and dry. Find out where your skills are, hone them as best you can, and find a place to use them to their best advantage. Not just your top skill or your favorite, but all you can find. Narrow specialties can be very lucrative, but if there's no call for yours, it's good to have a fall-back. And most people prefer a life with some variety.

    And I don't mean flipping burgers.

    How can such smart people be so incredibly stupid? Open up the damned shops again. Get the kids working with their

If you suspect a man, don't employ him.