Youths should be encouraged to enter the trades, too

September 19, 2013

Hey, anybody have a match. There we were, 6,500 feet underground at the Lucky Friday silver mine in Wallace Idaho. The hard rock miner leading our group shut all lights off. I’ve never seen such darkness. The irony and appreciation of that experience was amazing.

Over the past few years my perspective and love for Idaho has broadened. While my few minutes at the bottom of a silver mine was possibly the most dramatic; tours of our forests, farms, dairies, industry, manufacturing, education and infrastructure systems have further opened my eyes.

The effort it takes to transition raw goods to finished product is mind boggling and hard to ignore. Take a simple thing like dinner with the family. Consider what’s involved to put milk in your glass, sugar in your cake or electrons safely in your light bulbs. I think most folks understand that while we buy things at the store, that’s not necessarily where they come from. I sure hope so. I know the more I learn the less I tend to take the simple things in life for granted.

Our ability and need to produce goods and services has many challenges. Even though concern over too much regulation is a common denominator in industry, I’ll save that philosophical rant for another day. Today’s focus is about grooming a workforce to meet the needs of industry.

In a hit country song Willie and Waylon cautioned “Mama’s Don’t Let Your Babies Grow up to be Cowboys.” Is it possible the message encouraging our youth to continue their education subscribes a little too much to that lyric? Because kids aren’t cookie-cutter. We can ill afford to be too myopic in our approach to help youth with career direction choices.

Don’t get me wrong; I am a proponent of the idea to be all you can be, to follow your dreams, and to not let anyone tell you success is an unattainable fairytale. If a high school senior wants to be a brain surgeon we should encourage that. My point is, not every kid wants to be a doctor, physicist, architect, or, for that matter, President.

We hear all the time how America is becoming more and more a melting pot. As such our curriculum will need to become more and more diverse at all education levels. Matching kids to careers will always be a challenge but aptitude and interest exponentially increases the odds of job satisfaction. So please, pardon me for a moment as my blue collar background prompts me to step on my soapbox for a paragraph or two.

We need a guy who can run a backhoe, weld an I-Beam, roof a house or safely fell a tree and get it to the mill. We need those with the courage, grit and gut, to work a mile underground, a thousand feet above ground, or spend all day or night out in twenty below weather tending the herd. Not to be contrary to the great country icons; but mamas, we do need cowboys.
We need to encourage the trades with the same vigor we encourage graduate school. Industry demands it. I encourage you to talk to Scott Rasmussen, the Dean at the College of Technology on the ISU campus. He loves what he does, it shows, and you’ll be inspired by him and his staff. They do a phenomenal job as they prepare students for exciting careers with great pay and benefits.

Look, I would be the last to discourage a youngster from pursuing a four-year degree, but there’s an important message our youth need to hear. Not only is it okay to work in the trades, we need to encourage pride in the trades. Unlike the bottom of the Luck Friday, the future is far from dark. However it is incumbent on us to ensure all paths of educational opportunity have the light of encouragement shining brightly upon them.

Idaho State Journal 9/19/13