About a year ago, I read an excellent op-ed in the Los Angeles Times by Mike Rustigan, a professor of criminology at San Francisco State University and a national expert on criminal justice. He was making a point for vocational schools and the trades. I’d like to share a couple of quotes:
“Not every student needs to go to college. There are plenty of high school kids who find college-prep classes boring and irrelevant. Many drop out because they feel school is not preparing them for anything practical. Most of these kids are not lazy or defiant; they just want to work with their hands, learn a skill and pursue a solid, honorable, blue-collar trade after high school.
“For too long, academic elites and politicians- both Democrats and Republicans-have oversold us on the necessity of getting a college degree. We have reached the point at which it has become almost un-American to admit that for a sizable number of our young people, college is a waste of time.”
This second quote really resonates with me. I manage a group of erectors who might have been labeled “low-achievers” back in school. However, in my experience, when you offer these same kids the right form of education, they flourish. The magic of learning something that is useful and relevant, presented in a meaningful way, sparks a strong desire to achieve.
Rustigan’s article has been on my mind because every time I get together with colleagues all they talk about is the lack of qualified, skilled workers. Read this magazine, and you see many new and complex materials and systems, yet what are most companies doing to train and develop their crews? The same thing we’ve been doing for the last 50 years. Partner the young guy with an old guy, make him be the general gofer for a while and hope he absorbs enough to make him useful when you need him to do more.
Wake up people! This is crazy and no way to run a business, let alone an industry. We need to work locally to get the high schools and/or community colleges to offer more pertinent courses, but we also need to get our own houses in order. There is help out there. I’ve been preaching to anyone who will listen for the last six years. It’s called registered apprenticeship.
I can hear you now. “What is registered apprenticeship and what does it have to do with me?” The U.S. Department of Labor website says: “Registered apprenticeships are formalized career training programs offering a combination of structured on-the-job training and related technical instruction to employees to train them in occupations that demand a high level of skill. Apprenticeship training standards are industry-driven; an industry or program sponsor determines the skill requirements needed to build and sustain a quality workforce. Apprenticeships can last from one to six years (occupation dependent). During this time, apprentices work and learn under the direction of experienced journey workers. Over time, apprentices are provided the diversity and complexity of training that leads to becoming highly skilled in their chosen occupations. As they gain skill, they are compensated through an increase in wages.”
It’s all there. Apprenticeship is an oldfashioned word (the apprentice concept has been around since at least the Middle Ages) that addresses a very current and common problem. Wouldn’t you prefer to know that your crewmembers were all taught a new skill the same way (your way)? Wouldn’t you sleep easier knowing that your crews had all been trained consistently and to the same high standard? Rather than re-invent the wheel, why not implement a robust plan for onthe- job training and add a few select
(pre-defined) core classes of related technical instruction to supplement the fieldwork? The Metal Buildings Institute (MBI) offers a plug and play program for Engineered Building Erectors.
There are answers out there for those that are truly looking to solve their problems and not just whine about them. It may take a while but together we can re-establish pride in the trades. Contact your local community colleges and technical schools. Ask them what they can do for you.
Contact the MBI or your local Department of Labor about apprenticeship programs. Our young people deserve opportunities in the trades. Our industry needs skilled workers. Come on people. What are we waiting for?
Gary T. Smith is president of Thomas Phoenix International Inc., Eastampton, N.J. He serves as chairman of the Apprenticeship Committee for the Metal Buildings Institute, the educational arm of the Metal Building Contractors and Erectors Association. To learn more, visit MBI at www.metal-buildings-institute.org or call (800) 866-6722.