Toss Them a Line
Indulge me for a moment. I want to pull together three strings
into one, tight rope.
The first string is an Op-Ed in the New York Times by Thomas B.
Edsall from March 16 called "The Increasing Significance of the
Decline of Men." In it, Edsall points out that in spite of male
dominance of the economic system there are signs of problems men
face in our society today. Non-college educated males have higher
rates of drug use, violence and lower incomes. Overall, men are
less likely to attend college than women, and they are increasingly
dropping out of the workforce. This is especially true for those
men who were raised in single-parent (predominantly women)
The result of this decline is that whole swaths of Americans are
facing difficult futures that will increasingly require
intervention by the government-either welfare or police or
The second string to twine comes from my wife, who works as a
case manager for an excellent nonprofit that provides transitional
housing for homeless families. In addition to the housing, Bridge
Communities, Glen Ellyn, Ill., provides career counseling,
nutritional education, financial mentoring and other services. The
families that need its services are usually single-parent, and the
children in those homes often see college as beyond their means.
And one of the major focuses is to ensure the head of household has
a clear path to income by completing a degree or earning a
certificate that can lead to secure employment. But even quality
nonprofits can't provide a quality job for people in need. It is
the biggest struggle many of these families face.
So, both the head of household-which is usually a mother-and her
children need job opportunities that may not result from a college
The third and final string is our own construction industry. The
biggest issue facing our industry is a shortage of skilled labor:
welders, carpenters, plumbers, HVAC technicians, etc. When I speak
with contractors, many of them indicate they could take on more
work if they could find the people to do it. But they can't.
This is not a new problem, although it has grown more acute in
the last couple of years. I've been covering the construction
industry for more than a quarter century, and I have been writing
articles about the shortage of skilled labor for that entire
Three strings: men in need of value in our society, families
that need improved incomes, and an industry that needs workers. Put
all three into one strong rope.
Let's pair contractor associations and unions with programs such
as those provided by Bridge Communities and Big Brothers to offer
both long-term mentoring to young men at need, and provide a career
path that can help them fight out of the sucking muck of
Before we go any further, let's also make clear that these same
problems and opportunities are shared by girls and women. They need
a helping hand too, and the construction industry can be a solution
for them. Yes, a construction site is a tough place for a woman,
but that will never change unless we start getting more women on
the site. With more and more emphasis placed on ease of
installation for products, physical strength is less of an issue on
job sites. After all, if women can be Army Rangers, they can also
operate screw guns.
That said, I believe the problems Edsall identifies are real,
and they are completely related to the lack of value we offer men
who are not oriented toward a college degree. In short, our society
doesn't value people who work with their hands, so we don't
encourage children to pursue those opportunities.
We all know that the construction industry provides rewarding
jobs in terms of both satisfaction and income. Why are they going
wanting? It's not like we're keeping this a secret.
We've got to change American society's perception of skilled
labor, and the way to do that is to help people find paths out of
poverty and into the middle class. The construction industry is the
path, especially for people in need, and many of the people in need
most right now are young men.