The Invisible and the Forgotten

I didn’t give them much of a thought this morning. You probably didn’t either. Yet, they were there the entire time. I woke up in the house they built, cooled by the recently-repaired air conditioner. The warm shower woke me up thanks to the hot water they made possible. I got in the car they manufactured and drove down the road they maintain.

I stopped to get gas along the way. Gas they transported in tanks they built. I got to my office. They had taken my trash. I made my coffee, ignorant of the miracle of clean, filtered water at my beckoning call. I checked my email, not seeing an amazing infrastructure that allows me to contact a colleague on the east coast instantaneously.

There is a class of worker that is being forgotten in our country, and they are the ones we rely on the most. According to recent studies, employers are having a hard time finding skilled labor. They can’t find the sort of skilled welders, engineers, machinists, and other manufacturing personnel that they need to operate. Vocationally trained applicants are becoming rare.

Should we be surprised? A generation of children grew up being told that blue-collar work is some sort of last resort, and that they should be working with their minds, rather than their hands. It’s a shame, because this country was built by hands.

My dad is a master auto technician, and taught vocational technology classes for awhile. He told me about a couple of instances when parents would bring their kid in to see what he did. My dad would ask, “So you want to be a mechanic?” The parents would answer. “Well, he’s never done very well at school.”

This bothered my dad a lot. He knew that a modern auto technician requires certain skills, including geometry, math, and computer skills. A person becomes a good auto mechanic because he loves fixing cars, not because he never did well at school.

Recently, my dad told me that he has a trust in his will that will act a scholarship for high school graduates pursuing vocational fields. I have a lot of respect in his desire to support the blue-collar workers who will come after him.

There is a long tradition of blue-collar workers in my family. Mechanics, welders, repairmen, loggers, farmers, construction workers, truck drivers…they have been well-represented within generations of Campbells. My father always made sure that my sister and I helped him work on our vehicles, but I didn’t retain much of it. I seemed to lack that particular aptitude. I remember telling my mother that when I was older, I would just pay someone else to do it. Unfortunately, too many of my generation thought the same thing. Every time something breaks, I wish I had the skills of my father or grandfather and knew how to fix it, or even just where to start.

I’m not downplaying my talents. I don’t regret my academic education. The arts are important. Education is important. But so are vocational skills. Too many people have forgotten that. I hope they remember, before it is too late and the world begins to fall apart around us, with no one left who knows how to fix it.

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