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May 13, 2011 11:50 AM   Subscribe

"A few years from now, an hour with a good plumber- if you can find one- is going to cost more than an hour with a good psychiatrist. At which point we'll all be in need of both." Mike Rowe addresses the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation about the rapid decline in the trade labor force.
posted by XQUZYPHYR (94 comments total) 51 users marked this as a favorite

 
Dirty Jobs is surprisingly political, and has become much more in the last few years, one of the few remaining working class texts left in America.
posted by PinkMoose at 11:54 AM on May 13, 2011 [19 favorites]


Not for nothing, I have seriously considered giving up my white-collar life to become an electrician.
posted by Mister_A at 11:55 AM on May 13, 2011 [14 favorites]


Mister_A: "Not for nothing, I have seriously considered giving up my white-collar life to become an electrician."

I have a female acquaintance that did exactly that. From what I understand there exists lots of help & opportunities for women to enter the skilled trades.
posted by wcfields at 11:58 AM on May 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm pretty damn close to a PhD and I teach at a college. However, I respect the hell out of skilled workers like plumbers and electricians. I really don't understand why more of my students don't go into those fields. Do we really need that many business majors?
posted by oddman at 11:59 AM on May 13, 2011 [15 favorites]


I'm a woodshop teacher. I think this is fantastic!
posted by blaneyphoto at 11:59 AM on May 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


Not for nothing, I have seriously considered giving up my white-collar life to become an electrician.

Sure, but only if your current situation is such that you are free of a lot of family and/or financial commitments. Isn't there a rather lengthy period of class time and then apprenticeship that you have to go through before you are licensed?
posted by NoMich at 11:59 AM on May 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Social media consultants, meanwhile, will continue to be plentiful.
posted by randomkeystrike at 12:00 PM on May 13, 2011 [28 favorites]


I'm glad I'm not the only one considering something like quitting the office and working in the trades.

We are losing a senior DBA here later this year once he finishes getting his ticket for electrical work, and he's not exactly losing out on a lot of money in the move. He is, however, leaving behind a lot of stress and politics.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 12:02 PM on May 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


Dirty Jobs is surprisingly political

The whole concept of the show is political, insofar as it undermines the claim, frequent in some parts, that Americans have become so effete and lazy that we "just won't do" some jobs. What the show reinforces is that people will do all sorts of jobs, no matter how filthy or in some cases dangerous or scary, provided they're fairly paid.

It's also notable that he stays away from "dirty jobs" where workers are frequently or typically exploited, or work for sub-par wages -- e.g. slaughterhouses and large scale meat-packing are two obvious places that I've never seen the show go near.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:05 PM on May 13, 2011 [38 favorites]


Not for nothing, I have seriously considered giving up my white-collar life to become an electrician.

Sure, but only if your current situation is such that you are free of a lot of family and/or financial commitments. Isn't there a rather lengthy period of class time and then apprenticeship that you have to go through before you are licensed?


Also seems to describe being a doctor, or possibly a lawyer too.
posted by ZeusHumms at 12:07 PM on May 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


I just had a fence put in our backyard by a local guy. We got to chatting and he asked what I did for a living. I said "a computer programmer". He laughed and said he had his bachelor's degree in microcomputer science, but hated it and doesn't do that anymore.

I don't think installing fences is his primary job, but he seems to enjoy it. :)
posted by jillithd at 12:07 PM on May 13, 2011


I like Mike Rowe. I think this is a good initiative and I support it.

But I'm generally wary and skeptical of initiatives that seem aimed to ensure your children will grow up to be pipefitters.

Mike Rowe succeeded because his grandfather the handyman lived in a world that offered Mike the chance to do either the pipefitting or the communication studies at Towson University and still sing opera (seriously, go look up his background).

So, when someone says, "We need trades," I say yes. But when someone says, "We need more manufacturing jobs," I say, "Really?"
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:08 PM on May 13, 2011 [6 favorites]


Also since I read this earlier today, they added a 5th page with links to his press release, which is longer and presumably added to the congressional record somehow.
posted by ZeusHumms at 12:08 PM on May 13, 2011


Social media consultants, meanwhile, will continue to be plentiful.

Only until the B Ark launches.
posted by condour75 at 12:08 PM on May 13, 2011 [48 favorites]


I've always wondered what kind of time commitment it takes to go from unskilled to being a licensed, independent plumber/carpenter/electrician. How hard is it to find entry opportunities? I've heard wildly varying accounts of this, some say that there's an oversupply, some say that it's impossible to get entry level jobs, I don't know what to believe since I really don't know anything about it.
posted by skewed at 12:09 PM on May 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


Most everyone I know who has worked in construction or in skilled trades has sustained an injury of one sort or another. Most of them aren't debilitating, but cause lifelong discomfort. Back problems, eye issues, damaged knees, ankles, hands, arms, the list goes on. In some cases, injuries are career ending.

Why would anyone work a job that has an irregular schedule, irregular pay, above average health and injury risks and no health insurance?

They folks that I know, do it because they like the work. But that's not enough to sustain an entire industry.
posted by Xoebe at 12:10 PM on May 13, 2011 [6 favorites]


Classic doctor joke:

A pipe burst in a doctor's house. He called a plumber. The plumber arrived, unpacked his tools, did mysterious plumber-type things for a while, and handed the doctor a bill for $600.

The doctor exclaimed, "This is ridiculous! I don't even make that much as a doctor!."

The plumber quietly answered, "Neither did I when I was a doctor."
posted by scblackman at 12:15 PM on May 13, 2011 [40 favorites]


slaughterhouses and large scale meat-packing are two obvious places that I've never seen the show go near

Might also be because there's really no way to show most venues in anything close to a happy light. Once bitten, twice shy. Have a look for debeaking, if you'd like an example. I ain't gonna link nuffin of the sort here.

I came across an interesting term, the other day; de-industrialization. This seems to be an extension.

what kind of time commitment it takes to go from unskilled to being a licensed, independent plumber/carpenter/electrician
For my cousin, about 5 years. You have to build up the contacts in supply, and establish a reputation with the large-scale builders, and the up-and-coming community, to have enough ongoing business to keep operational. Even that is rocky, until you can get enough cash to bankroll your own projects, whether building on spec, or even just the materials cost for an entire house that is already 'sold'.
posted by LD Feral at 12:15 PM on May 13, 2011


no health insurance

Nailed it right on the head there, I think. "Making it" these days seems to be attaining a job that provides health insurance. I would be terrified taking a job like that (or starting my own business) knowing that I could be financially ruined if someone cuts me off on my bicycle.
posted by backseatpilot at 12:15 PM on May 13, 2011 [9 favorites]


Most of them aren't debilitating, but cause lifelong discomfort. Back problems, eye issues, damaged knees, ankles, hands, arms, the list goes on. In some cases, injuries are career ending.

My family knew a carpenter who was walking across a deck that had its joists in place, but no decking. He slipped and fell with one foot on each side of the joist and did severe damage to his genitals. Like, reconstructive surgery type damage. I think it is one of the things that convinced my stepfather to get out of carpentry (he's now a licensed golf pro).

Dirty Jobs is surprisingly political, and has become much more in the last few years, one of the few remaining working class texts left in America.


I would vote for the Discovery Party ticket of Mike Rowe for President and Adam Savage for VP in a hot fucking minute.
posted by Rock Steady at 12:16 PM on May 13, 2011 [42 favorites]


I should specify, that's after getting the appropriate tickets.
posted by LD Feral at 12:16 PM on May 13, 2011


See also: Mike Rowe celebrates dirty jobs TED talk (previously)
posted by specialagentwebb at 12:18 PM on May 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm pretty damn close to a PhD and I teach at a college. However, I respect the hell out of skilled workers like plumbers and electricians. I really don't understand why more of my students don't go into those fields. Do we really need that many business majors?
posted by oddman at 2:59 PM on May 13 [+] [!]


Because going to the tech or vocational high schol has traditionally been reserved as a last resort for poor performing students. Teachers and guidance councilors need to realize thatvocational schools are a viable option for all students, and make them more attractive by touting the benefits of being in the trades... e.g my brother the plumber has a vacation home. I work in IT and do not.
posted by Gungho at 12:19 PM on May 13, 2011 [13 favorites]


wcfields writes "I have a female acquaintance that did exactly that. From what I understand there exists lots of help & opportunities for women to enter the skilled trades"

If they can hack the workplace, trades tend to be very misogynistic, women can pretty well write their own ticket in a lot of trades. And it's been my experience that the majority of women in a trade job are at least better than average at their jobs.

NoMich writes "Isn't there a rather lengthy period of class time and then apprenticeship that you have to go through before you are licensed?"

I don't know what it is like in the States but in Canada you are paid practically for the whole time either directly or via employment insurance.
posted by Mitheral at 12:20 PM on May 13, 2011


Rock Steady - Can you elaborate on what a licensed golf pro is? I'm assuming you're being sarcastic about a guy that just loves golf, but part of me wonders if there actually is such a thing. And if there is such a thing, why? Was there a danger to the public by having people work as golf pros without a license? How do you become a licensed golf pro? Do all 50 state governments run their own golf pro licensing programs? If a license golf pro moves from one state to another, does he have to spend another two years in golf school to transfer his license?

And most importantly, is this a profession created to provide company to the licensed telephone sanatizers that will soon man the B Ark condour75 mentioned?
posted by SeanOfTheHillPeople at 12:26 PM on May 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


Why would anyone work a job that has an irregular schedule, irregular pay, above average health and injury risks and no health insurance?

My list starts here:
Power tripping micro managers that "have been doing this 30 years and know better than you", cubicles, endless corporate processes that seem to have the sole purpose of NOT letting you do your job, updated TPS Report cover sheets, etc
posted by Big_B at 12:26 PM on May 13, 2011 [14 favorites]


So did the Republicans protest when this expert from basic cable testified, like they did the last time?
posted by crunchland at 12:27 PM on May 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Robert Reich wrote about this in the 90s, in Locked in the Cabinet, of all places. He talked about the importance of creating job-training programs for these sorts of industries and wrote that we were in dire need of people who knew how to repair air conditioners and the like. Programs like BOCES help prepare some high school students to enter the workforce with those sets of skills, and though it's been about fifteen years since I read the book, I remember Reich advocating that America direct more resources to such programs.

The problem, as Gungho points out, is that we tend to marginalize these sorts of career fields and direct kids away from them, with the idea that everyone should have a liberal arts education instead.
posted by brina at 12:28 PM on May 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Mike Rowe succeeded because his grandfather the handyman lived in a world that offered Mike the chance to do either the pipefitting or the communication studies at Towson University and still sing opera (seriously, go look up his background).
Well, that's nice but the reality is the world doesn't really need communications majors nowadays. I mean, in part the internet upended any kind of technical knowledge that a communications major might have gotten (I guess) and beyond that anyone can 'communicate'.

So the fact is a handyman or electrician probably makes more money then someone with a communications major.

That said, if more people sign up to become electricians and plumbers, obviously the wages will go down. Like anything else, there's a supply/demand issue.

---

Anyway, Mike Rowe is an eloquent speaker for his ideas but frankly I disagree with him. Ultimately he's a Tourist. He goes in, he looks at what people do and then he leaves to go do something else. He doesn't have to do those jobs day in, day out for the rest of his working life, and while the people he works with like it I'm sure there are lots of people who don't like it, and wish they could do something else.
posted by delmoi at 12:29 PM on May 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


A whole lot of people in the trades work in new constructions, which is both very seasonal and cyclical. At the moment, it is a terrible field to be trained in. Even union carpenters are on strike here in CT, due to lack of pay increases and high unemployment and high cost of benefits.

Also, when you are calling your plumber on a weekend, did you ever consider you wouldn't want to be the one getting called?
posted by smackfu at 12:30 PM on May 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


Can you elaborate on what a licensed golf pro is?

Basically, it's a golf instructor. From what I understand, you basically need to be licensed to get a job giving golf lessons at any kind of country club. It was quite an involved process, actually. He had to take a significant number of online classes and then compete in a license tournament in which he had to attain a certain score or else wait until next year.

He commented often on the fact that the licensing procedure for teaching people to play golf was basically comparable to the licensing procedure to build houses.
posted by Rock Steady at 12:35 PM on May 13, 2011


Why would anyone work a job that has an irregular schedule, irregular pay, above average health and injury risks and no health insurance?

Short answer: This is why unions are so important.
posted by zombieflanders at 12:37 PM on May 13, 2011 [37 favorites]


It's also notable that he stays away from "dirty jobs" where workers are frequently or typically exploited, or work for sub-par wages -- e.g. slaughterhouses and large scale meat-packing are two obvious places that I've never seen the show go near.

Well of course that employer would not want a camera crew in there showing their quasi-legal practices.

I had a job as a teenager working with electricians, programming lighting automation systems. I wish I could get some contacts or resources on how to get back into that field... But i'm sure I'd need some kind of ridiculous certification to get that job now.
posted by kzin602 at 12:39 PM on May 13, 2011


There's a glut of cubicle farm type of jobs right now where people are subjected to mediocre work hours, extended periods sitting with little time to walk around, subsistence pay with the promise of a possible promotion, and ill-defined career paths.

On the flip side, someone in a skilled trade may be a union member with contractual pay increases, breaks, the ability to work in varied and challenging environments, and the ability to do freelance work with the same set of skills.

It might be more physical labor to be an electrician, plumber or roofer, but I don't believe that it is any "dirtier" than the jobs than many college graduates who didn't graduate with a degree aimed toward a specific trade would take.
posted by mikeh at 12:39 PM on May 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also, when you are calling your plumber on a weekend, did you ever consider you wouldn't want to be the one getting called?

A self-employed plumber generally has an option as to whether he will answer that call on a weekend. When I get a call on a weekend (I'm in an IT leadership position) that generally means that something has gone sufficiently boink that I better respond or start updating my resume. And the plumber is going to get paid for that time, but most IT lead positions come with this sort of thing as an expected part of the job.
posted by Runes at 12:41 PM on May 13, 2011 [10 favorites]


Paul Krugman was also talking about this back in the mid-1990s. He predicted that over the coming decades, an awful lot of traditional office jobs would be eliminated: it's easy to outsource them overseas, or automate them. But we'd still need plumbers. White Collars Turn Blue.
... consider the panic over "downsizing" that gripped America in 1996. As economists quickly pointed out, the rate at which Americans were losing jobs in the 90s was not especially high by historical standards. Why, then, did downsizing suddenly become news? Because for the first time white-collar, college-educated workers were being fired in large numbers, even while skilled machinists and other blue-collar workers were in high demand. This should have been a clear signal that the days of ever-rising wage premia for people with higher education were over, but somehow nobody noticed.
AskMetafilter thread on becoming a plumber.

In Canada, you see stories periodically about the skilled trades shortage, and the federal government has a number of programs to support the skilled trades.
posted by russilwvong at 12:43 PM on May 13, 2011 [7 favorites]


Is looking down on trade jobs US-centric? I've got friends in Europe, for example, who way the fork between trade school and college happens fairly early on (in what we would consider high school), and are both considered viable paths. In the US at least trade school is viewed as for those who couldn't cut it for college.
posted by Runes at 12:47 PM on May 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


ITT: every job sucks, except the job you don't have.

Regarding "nice" dirty jobs: they go where they're invited. It's not a rebel documentary crew, exactly. I can think of three episodes off the top of my head that get into meat-farming: one at a turkey farm (with a memorable sequence of inseminating the female turkeys), one at a chicken factory farm where he sexed the chicks in a dimly-lit room alongside a whole lot of other people, and one at another, different chicken factory farm that was really just shot after shot of chickens stacked in cages. I have watched them render cow carcasses into base fluid. And there have been a lot of assembly line episodes. There've been several sewage-related episodes (including one where gas detectors went off and everyone had to high-tail it out of there lest they pass out and the suffocate in liquid shit).

As mentioned upthread, I imagine the reason we don't see them tossing live chicks into grinders is because it would be incredibly bad PR for those companies and/or Discovery doesn't want to show it on the network and/or Rowe thinks that, while that probably counts as a dirty job, maybe no one should be doing it anyway.

Dirty Jobs is one of the few shows I watch. It says: "This is what's required to keep our civilization running." It leaves it up to you as to whether or not that's a good thing, it just asks that if you like what we've got, be thankful to the folk who ensure it all keeps ticking.
posted by curious nu at 12:50 PM on May 13, 2011 [5 favorites]


The military version of this stuff; SeaBees or something like that? Man; that job would like; be the kewl! Walk around all day, pretend to be illiterate; perfom magic with tools... man.

And the gov't would even like, train and pay bundles too! Wow!
posted by buzzman at 12:51 PM on May 13, 2011


My sister was driven out of auto mechanic school, despite loving the subject, by mysogenic practices and borderline abusive students and instructors. I've always contended that a garage owned and operated by women would make a mint in catering to other women in a non-patronizing fashion.


As to injuries... there just recently been a slew of reports saying one of the most toxic things you can do is sit on your fat ass 6 hours a day.. even if you exercise regularly.
posted by edgeways at 1:01 PM on May 13, 2011 [17 favorites]


I can think of three episodes off the top of my head that get into meat-farming

There was also the episode where he castrated goats with his teeth (I'm guessing they told him they do it that way just to get him to do it).
posted by dirigibleman at 1:03 PM on May 13, 2011


My sister was driven out of auto mechanic school, despite loving the subject, by mysogenic practices and borderline abusive students and instructors. I've always contended that a garage owned and operated by women would make a mint in catering to other women in a non-patronizing fashion.

Ms. Lube by Mechanchik is just down the street from me.
posted by Chuckles at 1:12 PM on May 13, 2011 [3 favorites]




Right now, I'm at a juncture in my life. I'm a recent college graduate with a liberal arts background (international studies). I loved my college experience. Since graduating, I struggled to attain a paid job in that field or one of my interested areas (urban planning, Library science, community organization, non-profit administration). I’ve had a few unpaid and paid internships and work there part-time.

I also work with my father, a plumber. Often, he encourages his only son and employee to take over his business, stating that I could earn a bit of money with it and me that I start my own 'urban planning firm' with his business. Other times, and these are most of the days, especially times that you bust your ass in a 3 foot crawl space full of mud to snake (clean out) a pipe, you come home physically exhausted, feeling like a spent condom. We both agree that I didn't go to college for that.
Nearly every day, as I work, I say to myself that I no longer want to do this. I become more determined to find a job where I no longer have to do this day in and day out.

My father (turns 60 in 2 weeks) is physically deteriorating before my eyes. It takes him longer to get of bed each day. He was a former Union President and long-time card carrying member.

I’ll echo that I don’t feel identify much with a blue-collar class culture that is pervasive in plumbing. It pains me to stereotype, but I’ve gone to the plumber association picnics and events, the supply houses to pick up material, and I don’t feel like I belong.

At the same time, I don’t feel at home with the white-collar academic crowd either but I would rather try reconcile both of these identities and while being a white-collar worker.

“A self-employed plumber generally has an option as to whether he will answer that call on a weekend.” This is true for any self-employed person who can finish can complete a job for a customer over a weekend afternoon.
posted by fizzix at 1:13 PM on May 13, 2011 [14 favorites]


I've always contended that a garage owned and operated by women would make a mint in catering to other women in a non-patronizing fashion.

Werk-Statt in San Francisco surely does, though they mostly focus on older motorcycles.

For whatever reason, fixing motorcycles seems to be a common path for those fed up with office life.
posted by poe at 1:16 PM on May 13, 2011


My father (turns 60 in 2 weeks) is physically deteriorating before my eyes. It takes him longer to get of bed each day. He was a former Union President and long-time card carrying member.

My dad was an auto mechanic who went to college to become an engineer in part because he saw what bad shape the older guys were in.
posted by not that girl at 1:22 PM on May 13, 2011


Why would anyone work a job that has an irregular schedule, irregular pay, above average health and injury risks and no health insurance?

Been there, done that and would not give up my current desk job. I did residential house painting for almost a decade and barely squeaked out $20K a year with no benefits and constant danger of falling to my death or killing brain cells with solvent fumes. The blue collar world is so unregulated and badly run by small-time companies that it's a nightmare for workers. Safely regulations are never ever followed and injuries are common.

I've gained a lot of weight since I finished my degree and started working inside but at least the likelihood of falling 40 feet to my death is pretty slight.
posted by octothorpe at 1:24 PM on May 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


Before romanticizing blue-collar work, please talk to an actual blue-collar worker, who almost always doesn't want his progeny doing what he or she did/does for a living.
posted by downing street memo at 1:28 PM on May 13, 2011 [17 favorites]


I was working from home the other day, and from the kitchen window I could see the roofers working on the church down the street. No one was wearing a harness, and various tools were being tossed back and forth. I had to stop watching.
posted by rtha at 1:31 PM on May 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


I can think of three episodes off the top of my head that get into meat-farming

Also, many of the episodes show what I consider unbearable assembly line jobs. Mike does them for a few minutes, putting jars in boxes or something, but someone is doing that job for 40 hours a week, for 20 years.
posted by smackfu at 1:31 PM on May 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


There was also the episode where he castrated goats with his teeth (I'm guessing they told him they do it that way just to get him to do it).

Rowe talks a lot about the castrating lambs episode in the aforementioned TED talk. He talked to the ASPCA, they told him one way, but when it came time to do it, the biting method used by the guy who did it day in and day out was actually quicker and more humane.

A lot of the reason that blue-collar work is so punishing on the body in this country is that we don't have a reasonable health care system. Since your risk of being injured is higher, the premiums are outrageous and there's always some scab willing to do the same for cheaper. If you don't work, you don't get paid, so you work with broken digits, crap in your eyes, and stuff in your lungs because your kids need new glasses. And besides, safety third. White collar jobs are indoors and there's a greater likelihood to avoid bankruptcy due to crushing medical bills.

However, until the plumbers and electricians and nurses and so forth can get together and buy a Congress like Wall Street can, I don't know how things can change.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 1:44 PM on May 13, 2011 [12 favorites]


Lets just be clear on a few things about the romanticism of Blue Collar work:
1. Trade Schools are some of the most frequent "for profit" institutions (see ITT tech, etc.) You will get screwed if you head back for an Associates in any technical profession. Also, if you've already recieved a bachelor's there is significantly less financial aid. A few of those things you got the first time around were one time only.

2. You may set your hours, but you'll get the opposite of a positive reference as a plumber if you aren't open on sunday at 3:00AM if someone's pipes have exploded. Especially now that blasting someone is as easy as finding a board and ranting on them with the smart phone your customer called you from.

3. Welding is awesome. Breathing in some of the toxic fumes and handling antique asbestos pipe insulation is the opposite. Next time you see a private contractor, ask him how much his medical coverage costs and what exactly it covers. I recommend a solid life insurance policy. Also, weld enough and you will go blind.

4. How do you feel about being sued from customer neglect after the customer burns down their own home for not properly maintaining their furnace?

5. Both legal and illegal immigrants perform many of these duties. They're willing to do the job cheaper. In other words, pay rates are going to be coming down fast over the next 5 years, especially if there are fewer home owners and a growing population of blue collar workers.

If that isn't enough to make you think twice... You may have what it takes to be a contractor!
posted by Nanukthedog at 1:44 PM on May 13, 2011 [13 favorites]


"a few years from now" we won't need a plumber because none of us are going to own a house.

Those that CAN own a house will have a plumber on staff.

Get used to taking care of business in the woods.
posted by tomswift at 1:48 PM on May 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


Seriously, folks. My grandpa was an auto mechanic, who didn't even like me doing work on my own car, when I had one.

"Take it to Jiffy Lube, son. That's why you went to college."

That might be a little over the top, but generational moves up the collar ladder aren't just the product of a capitalist conspiracy. They also happen because blue collar work sucks, generally speaking.
posted by downing street memo at 1:52 PM on May 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well, that's nice but the reality is the world doesn't really need communications majors nowadays.

It's hard to me argue against that, because my own communications degree is worth zero.

But you completely missed the point, which is not communications majors, but opportunities to do something different than what your parents did.

The world may not need more communications majors. But the world doesn't need any artists. Should arts funding dry up? No.

So, it's not the trades. It's the opportunities.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:55 PM on May 13, 2011 [6 favorites]


3. Welding is awesome.

In my view, welding is pretty much the least appealing job on these shows. Oppressive safety gear + confined spaces + extreme temperatures + perfectionism + high degree of difficulty = dirty job for sure.
posted by smackfu at 1:55 PM on May 13, 2011


My father spent the majority of his life severely unhappy. He had artistic skils so he tried being a fine artist, a photographer, a set designer. He was really, really good at it but it made him miserable, so no matter how successful he got, he managed to sabotage himself.

At a low point around the time he turned 50, he found himself on some dude's farm. Thanks to set design, he knew how to build things. He liked animals. He knew how to take things apart. After a little city boy freakout, he found himself. Now he lives on a farm, raises animals, does metal scrapping. He's poorer than he's ever been throughout his life, but I've never seen him happier. He's got more friends (and dogs) than anyone else I know.

I can't imagine what his life had been like if he hadn't been pushed to "do something important" with his talents.
posted by Gucky at 2:03 PM on May 13, 2011 [10 favorites]


My ex was an electrician. Still holding a union card, but laid off for three years now with only sporadic work. It is very physically punishing work. He had a complete hip replacement before the age of 50. The company he worked for was the contractor for the state department of transportation, doing all the electrical work on the tollways. This means working on overhead sensors and cameras suspended over highways in all kinds of weather. His hands were usually a painful mess as much of the work required bare hands in close proximity with sharp tools. Union wages with overtime made his annual income 65K to 70K. Benefits were excellent but that is a moot point as no one wants to hire union electricians when the perception is that you can find day laborers to do it on Craigslist for $20/hr. Without the construction industry going full bore, only government agencies and some major corporations are required to hire union workers. It is a very tough market.
A childhood friend's dad was a plumber that died in a tragic plumbing accident. And lifelong disability is common in the trades. But all in all there is a pride taken in a job well done. You can directly see the fruit of your labor. I wish the unions would regain the respect they once had. Without them,workers in the trades are fucked.
posted by readery at 2:09 PM on May 13, 2011 [9 favorites]


I think the extent that I "romanticize" skilled labor is that:

1. It provides a real tangible good
2. It is a real tangible need
3. I honestly think more people need to do more manual labor, and that it is as important as computer labor or artistic labor.

Yes, you can get injured and the hours are crap sometimes... but you can also keel over from a stroke induced by office stress, or too much Mountain Dew coding, and both those jobs can see long hours with increasing crappy wage protection. I honestly would much rather talk with an electrician about his job then a CPA, or a coder or actor about theirs. (Don't get me wrong, each has a valuable job.)
posted by edgeways at 2:18 PM on May 13, 2011 [3 favorites]



I've always contended that a garage owned and operated by women would make a mint in catering to other women in a non-patronizing fashion.



Pam's
posted by notreally at 2:28 PM on May 13, 2011


3. Welding is awesome. Breathing in some of the toxic fumes and handling antique asbestos pipe insulation is the opposite.

A grandpa of mine was a welder for a long time and it was considered "sissy" to wear the protective shit. The end of his life was a couple of years of pure agony in emphysema hell. He literally prayed for death every single day and he imparted this this piece of wisdom to us grandchildren: "This is what not being a sissy looks like."
posted by NoMich at 2:31 PM on May 13, 2011 [10 favorites]


Oops: "...it was considered 'sissy' to wear the protective shit (except for the eye protection)."
posted by NoMich at 2:33 PM on May 13, 2011


I got into a trades retraining program in 2009 after my old electronics service career went kaput. I just got my Gas Fitter II ticket last month, and now I'm looking to get into HVAC. Unfortunately, at age 41 it's hard getting over the age thing coupled with that hoary old "lack of experience" issue*. Generally your chances of getting into the trades is a lot better if you're in your twenties. And if your dad/uncle/brother is already a union member.

* though I did get on the waiting list for Steamfitter apprenticeships, so there's hope for me yet.

posted by spoobnooble at 2:56 PM on May 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


I had a job as a teenager working with electricians, programming lighting automation systems. I wish I could get some contacts or resources on how to get back into that field... But i'm sure I'd need some kind of ridiculous certification to get that job now.

You'd be surprised. Getting the job is doable. Getting paid what you're actually worth requires certification. I made $20/hour as a Level 1 Crestron programmer. That turned into MUCH more after I got certified. Pity the work dried up and I went back to a desk job.
posted by rhythim at 2:58 PM on May 13, 2011


In Praise of Idleness by Bertrand Russell

Immigration can solve any trade shortage, assuming we remain rich. We might need to ditch the racist morons though if Mexico stopped supplying our tradesmen, well we don't have so many borders.

posted by jeffburdges at 3:11 PM on May 13, 2011


This idea of chucking the white collar for a trade is not new: Grandfather Biscuit was a geologist by training who spent his working life as an electrician. I was too young when he was around to really ask about career choices, but he did manage to buy a house and raise five kids with that single salary coming in, so it certainly paid adequately.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 3:13 PM on May 13, 2011


My parents met in art school. My dad's a carpenter. Do the math on why that is.

It has taken a massive toll on his body -- he played sports in high school, every single sport there was, year-round, and now he's up on ladders and roofs and pounding things every day. Not fun for a nearly 60-year-old guy. It adds up. The one plus is that it did offer him some degree of flexibility when it came to pursuing his other love -- playing music in bands.

(Well, until his hands went to shit and suddenly went numb last year for no apparent reason. Good luck getting that fixed when you don't have health insurance).

I think about this every time my boyfriend and my best friend's husband do the "fuck this, I hate my job, I'm gonna go work construction" rant. I spent most of my childhood listening to my dad complaining about the kinds of aches and pains most of us will never have to suffer day in and day out.

My dad's a smart guy. I wish he could have had an easier time of it. I will appreciate all he's gone through for the rest of my life. His aches and pains let me go to college and pursue the kind of creative job I am positive he wished he could have been doing at my age. Only now that I'm older do I truly understand that.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 3:58 PM on May 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


I manage a crew of 65 unionized workers with skills ranging from labourer, carpenter, steel worker, welder, and foreman. They work 4 days a week for 10 hours per day and make anywhere from 50k to 70k per year before factoring overtime. They have a pension and healthcare, part paid by the Canadian government and part paid by the company. They get to retire as early as age 55, with full benefits starting at 35 yrs of service. Yes they have it tough, they work outdoors 95% of the time and the risk of injury is always present. However considering everything they have a very good job and I could think of many things far worse someone could choose for a living.

Also, since I also work with many contractors I have met many people in various other trades (professional welders, heavy equipment operators, masons, electricians, etc) and the range in pay and work condition varies wildly but is usually in direct proportion to the individual's savvy and work ethic. Good tradesmen will not only get paid more but they will work more hours, overtime pay is where it's at with these guys - of course it's rough but they enjoy the challenge. And unlike me, and every other manager I know, when they go home they don't bring their work home with them. I also know that I will have a serious labor shortage in the very near future (the average age in my group is over 50).

Yet another example comes to mind: a friend of mine is a master electrician with his own business. He does top notch work, he has many private customers but also sub-contracts for larger contractors. I can't say how much he makes but he does have a a rather nice home in a nice part of town.

The trades are just like any other line of work: those who have aptitude and work hard will do better. However, just like the hopeless customer service rep in the 7'x7' cubicle on the 4th floor there are blue collar workers working in atrocious conditions for poor pay. Yet on the other side of the coin are those blue collar workers that rise above the rest, make a good wage, and enjoy their chosen line of work - if you don't believe watch any episode of Holmes on Homes to see examples of what I mean.
posted by Vindaloo at 4:06 PM on May 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


downing street memo: "Before romanticizing blue-collar work, please talk to an actual blue-collar worker, who almost always doesn't want his progeny doing what he or she did/does for a living"

Reminds me of the episode of 30 days (IMDB Link) where he goes to work in the coal mines, and all those guys want better for their kids and are trying, but have this sense of resignation that in the end, just like they and their fathers before them, will end up working in the coal mine...

I Never Picked Cotton (SLYT)
posted by symbioid at 4:16 PM on May 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


I manage a crew of 65 unionized workers with skills ranging from labourer, carpenter, steel worker, welder, and foreman. They work 4 days a week for 10 hours per day and make anywhere from 50k to 70k per year before factoring overtime. They have a pension and healthcare, part paid by the Canadian government and part paid by the company. They get to retire as early as age 55, with full benefits starting at 35 yrs of service. Yes they have it tough, they work outdoors 95% of the time and the risk of injury is always present. However considering everything they have a very good job and I could think of many things far worse someone could choose for a living.

just wait to Harper and his successors are done with the Canadian wage and labor laws.

that's what this all comes down to.
posted by ennui.bz at 4:21 PM on May 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


"Well, that's nice but the reality is the world doesn't really need communications majors nowadays. I mean, in part the internet upended any kind of technical knowledge that a communications major might have gotten (I guess) and beyond that anyone can 'communicate'. "

Dude, don't say shit this dumb.

The world doesn't need computer science majors anymore because everyone can use a computer. "Communication" covers a huge raft of shit, from journalism to, well, actual communication techniques, and a lot besides.
posted by klangklangston at 4:31 PM on May 13, 2011 [7 favorites]


You know what's a dirty job?

Being a municipal assessor, especially in a rural area. I work in an assessor's office, and the people at my work bust their ass going to places the stink of cow shit. They have to walk around god knows how many farm buildings measuring them. They have to deal with angry dogs. Angry taxpayers (we had a bomb threat to our office back in 2000 or so).

Add in elected officials who don't want to make angrier taxpayers. Add in all the great regulations of the state (which admittedly aren't too bad, but the schedule to push changes through is a bit fast, IMO), taking over records from shitty assessors and seeing just how bad some of the work can be...

But yeah - mostly - the cowshit. The other stuff could be pretty much any shitty white collar job... Oh, and angry taxpayers (hell, I think our administrative assistant should get an award for having to deal with so many angry people everyday.) Usually you can at least pass someone along to a higher up in something like a tech-support/consumer complaint line. But that's usually just frustration - add in taxes and the political anger that can spill over (our photographer, a younger lady, was threatened to be shot if she didn't hightail it off the propery... And you've got yourself in for a stressful situation...

I'm not an assessor, I just do the mass quantity of data entry (which in itself can get pretty intense during full revaluations). My boss, he's right out there with them, though. He doesn't just own the company, he works just as hard (if not harder), than anyone else. When you have almost a hundred accounts, with all sorts of personalities, it can get intense.

And I've smelt some of my coworkers after a long day in the field.

It ain't pretty.
posted by symbioid at 4:35 PM on May 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


I spent most of my childhood listening to my dad complaining about the kinds of aches and pains most of us will never have to suffer day in and day out.

Hear, hear. I posted a little about this in the Planet Fitness thread the other day when someone was like, "Why would anyone pay money to WORK? Get a real job, hurf durf."

My dad was a butcher and a meat cutter for 25 years. The last five of them were utter hell, dragging himself across the finish line so he could draw his full pension. By the end of that time all his fingertips were numb from a lifetime of nicks and cuts, and his joints were so bad that if he clenched a fist, his knuckles would dislocate. He had horrible swelling in his legs from standing all day. And then a few months before he was set to retire, they found some ridiculous reason to fire him. After a two year wrongful-termination suit, he was finally granted his pension.

The last year or so, his life has been transformed. It's hard for him to keep off the weight, because he's too sore to exercise most of the time, but he's not popping mind-altering amounts of painkillers just to get through the afternoon. There are lots of times when I get seduced by the idea of finding a trade, but in the end I my dad always makes a comment about how he wishes he could have found a way to do something like what I'm doing now. By the time he was my age, he'd already had two shoulder operations to repair cartilage.

Ironically, when I was younger he thought college would be a complete waste of time and urged me to drop out and just work full time. He'd never gone himself, and didn't figure in the long run. He was sort of right -- I did drop out, and it hasn't really hindered me. But still, living by my wits and my creativity is the better gamble for me in the long run, even if I die younger because I sat around too much.
posted by hermitosis at 5:33 PM on May 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


"Communication" covers a huge raft of shit, from journalism to, well, actual communication techniques, and a lot besides.

Is "being able to communicate what they do" aboard that raft?



</snark>
posted by fore at 5:47 PM on May 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Dismantling unions and the safety net of America is leading us down a path where not even the trades will be a path to a decent middle class job. (Ha! $60-70K is middle class! It was 20 years ago, too. Remind me again of how well trickle down works...)
posted by stoneweaver at 6:06 PM on May 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


Recently, I've been giving serious thought to changing careers, to getting out of teaching and possible starting a butcher/charcuterie kind of business. I spent the last couple years really looking into it, and as much, I think, as I would like being able to point to something and say "I made that," I've been looking at things like this thread, talking to people who actually make sausage for a living, and sorted it out in my head.

I'm someone who's had two back surgeries already (college, stupid L5 discs), who has disc issues in his neck (occasionally shooting pains down the arms are fun), and yeah, it wouldn't work. Hell, I made about ten kilos of sausage (delicious, delicious sausage) for my last barbecue, and my arm still isn't right from the combination of grinding, fanning the coals, and doing all of the chopping and mincing. And yeah, at the end of it, I look at what I would have to give up of the lifestyle I have in order to open, say, a restaurant, or a food service business, and I go back to grading papers.

I look at my uncle, who graduated with degrees in music and education, who was a classically trained pianist. He was basically forced into his father's pool business, then ended up having to start his own. He's getting by, barely, but he's nearly 60 now, and has just barely gotten back the use of his right hand, which he couldn't unclench for nearly two years due to repeated shoulder injuries. I'm pretty sure if I told him I was serious about leaving a good teaching job to get into a labor intensive butcher/sausage making job, he'd probably box my ears and tell me not to be stupid.
posted by Ghidorah at 6:27 PM on May 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


My current job involves the hiring of plumbers/electricians/maintenance in a major metropolitian market. I have seen quite a few resumes of people that haven't worked in two or more years. They are all taking significant paycuts for the jobs I am hiring for. This article doesn't ring true to me now, but I could see if the economy picked up it being a problem because most of the guys I see are pretty old.
posted by SouthCNorthNY at 6:57 PM on May 13, 2011


I switched gears from working as courseware developer for a university to being a cook to being an ironworker. I'm still working my through my apprenticeship but I've never had a better job... there is a lot of work in some parts of the country right now, but it's not an easy go in Ontario all the time but I've adapted my life to the work's cyclical nature and have come to enjoy only working 8/12 months and having more than enough to live comfortably on.

I've also lost 60lbs since I left the university (it was odd being a cook that kept losing weight) and have never been in better shape in my life since being an ironworker. I try to work smart and avoid needless wear and tear on my body.

Despite only being at it a few years I've been down a salt mine and into the dirty depths of a steel mill. It's really neat work sometimes and when it's not the pay is great and the worries are the foreman's.

I am not so sure that things will be so rosy when I'm an old timer though but I think Ill have enough skills to survive, at least. If something happens I can always go back to menial office work, anyone can do that.
posted by glip at 7:06 PM on May 13, 2011


I've been sort of white-collar - electronic technology, and more recently web app programming, and doing pretty good, but I'm over 50. After a layoff in 2009 and a 16-month dry spell, I gave myself permission last year to do something different, so I worked for minimum wage as an apprentice at a marine engine shop. I spent 10 weeks in and around boats (which I love), got dirty and sunburnt and lost 10 lb, made many contacts, and had a blast, generally. I don't think that small diesel engines are my true vocation, but the experience inspired me to apply my electronic skills to boating, and I completed a certification course in marine electrical systems last fall.

I'm back to work again as a programmer, mostly out of necessity, since there's still a mortgage and it pays well, but I am maintaining my contacts in the marine biz, and I very much hope that when the mortgage is done I can, if I so choose, work more in the marine field. In fact I hope to keep working at least part-time, into my 70s if possible, as long as I like what I'm doing.

My wife, through various mergers and acquisitions, found herself at HP as part of a very demoralized purchasing dept., with 22+ years of service. She hated it, and we used to joke about her getting laid off with a fat settlement, and last year... it happened. The settlement was more than enough for her to take last year off, attend a small chef college, and now she's working near full-time at a catering company, and happy as a clam.

moral of story - if there's any way you can get paid to do what you love, and it's enough to get by, go for it. Or at least plan for it. The only reason for making good money at a job you hate is to luse it to propel yourself into something you love to do.

(Another piece of wisdom - if you're 50+ and you're not happy doing what you do, go do what you want NOW. Don't wait. )

Also, kids, remember that an elderly boat mechanic is the best kind :^) .See you at the dock!
posted by Artful Codger at 7:50 PM on May 13, 2011 [5 favorites]


(oops... luse = use. sorry)
posted by Artful Codger at 7:55 PM on May 13, 2011


My family is full of carpenters and electricians (and one auto mechanic) but generally speaking, they were all fortunate enough to get into "management" roles as they aged, and stop putting their bodies through hell. My dad died early, but that was because he smoked like a chimney, not because of work injuries, even though he did bear some impressive scars from getting shocked when he was an electrician. My brother builds houses, but hires younger guys to do the dangerous stuff and seems no more beat up than any other dude his age. My other brother manages an oil-change place; the money's not great, but he doesn't sit behind a desk all day. I'm probably in worse shape than either one of them because I am on my ass for far too many hours a day.

Of course, none of them were the sole breadwinners, either, so they had the luxury of saying no to crap jobs and having healthcare through their wives.

Frankly, I think the best solution would be everyone working for no more than 20 hours a week anyway, but say that and people think you're some sort of fucking hippie.
posted by emjaybee at 8:55 PM on May 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


Somewhat related: this week's Economist features a pithy column on the increasingly high licensing requirements imposed upon American workers in less risky occupations.

These vary widely; no license is required to braid hair in California, for example, while Utah is apparently considering whether to license the installation of eyelash extensions.
posted by anigbrowl at 9:00 PM on May 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


i have to make the observation that at my factory, the average amount of experience among workers is dropping and the general fund of knowledge and how to fix things is dropping, too

it's like a bunch of dwarfs have inherited the kingdom of the giants and go through rituals they don't really understand in hope that they'll be able to duplicate the results

the thing that really blows my mind is that after almost 12 years there, 11 doing what i do now, i'm looked up to as one of the people who knows something, even though i never touch the machines and don't have the skills to fix them

we are losing our ability to make things work in this country
posted by pyramid termite at 9:23 PM on May 13, 2011 [10 favorites]


This is an encouraging article to read the day before I start my apprenticeship as a power line worker.

And to everyone saying that work in the trades is too physically damaging, you never get health insurance, it's not worth the risk... I would say you're painting with much too broad of strokes, as if there were two kinds of jobs: desk jobs and trade jobs. A day laborer vs. an electrician vs. a HVAC technician vs. a tree trimmer are all going to have different drawbacks and advantages, just like an accountant vs. a public school teacher vs. a freelance graphic designer vs. a secretary. "The Trades" encompasses a huge variety of jobs, I don't think it's accurate to make generalizations about them all across the board.
posted by mingo_clambake at 10:02 PM on May 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


anigbrowl writes "Somewhat related: this week's Economist features a pithy column on the increasingly high licensing requirements imposed upon American workers in less risky occupations.

"These vary widely; no license is required to braid hair in California, for example, while Utah is apparently considering whether to license the installation of eyelash extensions."


I learned today that California requires a licence to to do certified work on automotive lights.
posted by Mitheral at 11:01 PM on May 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


I would agree that I painted the trades with a broad brush. You should hear me talk about white collar work. My point is/was this: transitioning to a different career from one where you posess a level of proficiency is not as simple as just doing it - espcially later in life. Between the pysical demands and the debt required to make the transition it is not easy. Moreover, if the trades were really jobs in demand, Detroit and much of the rust belt would not have some of the highest unemployment rates in the country - period.

The plumber who looks like he could use a little help? He may have laid off his crew a few years back when things got rough, and now may bring a few folks back on a per firm basis when the need arises. What I mean by that is: if the job market was clamouring for this labor, people would be working. Even nursing, is looking at having a surplus of labor (comparative to the level of service a for-profit hospital wants to give) over the next ten years.

With that said, you may opt to make the switch. You may find work. You may have no health problems. You may love your new job. You may find it rewarding.

Or, much like your chosen profession, you may find a lot to be disappointed by.
posted by Nanukthedog at 4:07 AM on May 14, 2011


Per firm = per diem. Damn you captcha.
posted by Nanukthedog at 4:09 AM on May 14, 2011


I have to call BS on this one. I think there was probably a Senator who wanted to get Mike Rowe's autograph for his son or something.

Mike seems to be a good dude and all, but there is just no evidence that job openings are increasing in trades, transportation and utilities.
posted by superelastic at 5:48 AM on May 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


There's a definte culture shift WRT to hands-on skill. I also volunteer at a community bike shop and folks routinely show up without a clue of which way to turn wrenches and screwdrivers. I don't understand how one can make it to adulthood without picking up that little trick along the way. People often ask me, with a straight face, why they need to oil the chain. WTF?

I think the situtation in Canada for trades is peachier than the states. The gov't here is putting lots of money into apprenticeship grants and there are tax credits for tools too. Proper apprentceship is essential to developing the trades and it doesn't seem like it's pushed as much in the states. The Red Seal is the result of standardizing the schooling for the trades and recognizing that this person had to at least past the tests and work X number of hours to achieve this status.

Just because a bunch of chumps on CL claim they are plumbers and will come fix your leaky faucet doesn't mean they would be of any use to a company building a new water treatment plant. Electricians that "fix" wiring in old houses and move outlets might not have a fucking clue when it comes to do setting up new panels and reading blueprints for big projects. Industrial and commercial construction is where the money is and where you really need to know your shit. People get away with so much shit in residential construction these days because so many people don't even know which way to turn a screw, so of course when you pay the cheapest guys to "fix" something, don't be surprised when an inspector finds it later and tells you it's out of code. That's why shit like electrical and plumbing is a certified trade. Braiding hair... not so much.

Buying tools has even turned into a joke these days so I do think we're fucked as a society when it comes to fixing and building things.
posted by glip at 6:08 AM on May 14, 2011


Mike seems to be a good dude and all, but there is just no evidence that job openings are increasing in trades, transportation and utilities.

A lot of these "skills mismatch" stories lead to attractive conclusions -- We don't know how to make things any more! Our kids can't compete in math and science! -- but superelastic is exactly right; the stories aren't backed up by evidence. Here's Dean Baker: There Is No Evidence for the "Structural Unemployment" Story.
posted by Ralston McTodd at 6:43 AM on May 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm a mid-30's former desk jockey with a B.A., have completed an electrical apprenticeship, and am now working towards becoming a system operator. I wish someone had told me about apprenticeships when I was finishing up (private) high school and headed off to a snooty liberal arts college in New England to wander on an aimless (and expensive) scholastic course for four years, followed by a largely unsatisfying post-graduation decade filled with jobs in the creative sector. The sum total of the first ten years of my career fits on a keychain USB drive - evidence of accomplished work that I keep around, because all of the websites that I designed, built or generated content for are no longer in existence. I also have a very nice Aeron chair that reminds me of how good it is to get an actual paycheck every two weeks instead of showing up to work to find chains on the door.

I don't know that I would have had the wherewithall and self-discipline to have followed through on the 4+ year electrical apprenticeship when I was in my early 20's - but those who do are looking at 40+ years of gainful employment.

There is a huge generation gap in the skilled trades. 80% of the people I work with either could have retired in the last five years, or can retire in the next five. Fortunately for those of us who still need plumbers, electricians and skilled mechanics there are a lot of bright, young, trained veterans returning from the military services. Now it is just a manner of getting them licensed and credentialed as necessary.
posted by FairWitness at 7:37 PM on May 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


While we certainly don't need to romanticize blue collar work, it can be much more profitable than the average white collar job. My husband was on a path towards entering construction trades in high school, until he qualified for a gifted and talented program. He ended up not going to college, but entering white collar workforce with no college degree. He likes what he does, but he could be making twice as much had he stuck with his original plan. But the teachers and counselors talked him out of it because he was too smart.

I do think there needs to be more funding for trade training in high school because not everyone is suited to college or office work. Or service industry jobs, which is pretty much the only alternative if you don't get connected with blue collar training.
posted by threeturtles at 8:23 AM on May 15, 2011


Many of the people I know in the trades were totally fucked for several years due to the housing bust etc; most were getting by but only just, Home Depot was a wasteland (whether accurate or not, the level of activity there is used by many as a measure of economic health), and even tradespeople in the fields not directly connected to new construction–plumbers, electricians, mechanics–were hard-hit. This is news to nobody, I'm sure, but even before that and definitely now, with some recovery happening, there never seemed to be a glut of jobs in any of the trades. In the time I've been working in or familiar with those fields, the last 12 years or so, I've rarely heard anyone talk about how good things are. Even when a shop or outfit is doing really well, the overall sense of things is anxious and fearful, and talk tends toward getting out of the trades or giving up a small business in favor of signing on with a mega-corp.

This is all anecdotal, of course. I work for a guy doing custom metalwork that gets bought when a builder wants to gussy things up and has twenty grand left after the condo goes up, or when a homeowner or shopkeeper wants to show off and is willing to pay for it–what I do is ornamental, unnecessary, so my outlook is especially bleak right now. I am skeptical, though, of claims that there is or will be a robust job market for tradespeople. Hope I'm wrong.

That said, I encourage everyone to learn how to make stuff and fix stuff. You don't have to quit your job and become a carpenter to learn woodworking, and even with metalwork there's plenty of opportunity-community colleges, forges that offer classes, and it's really not too hard to set up a basic shop in your garage. The widespread lack of basic mechanical knowledge others have noted is definitely real (I am still very much a beginner when it comes to broad functional skills despite years of practice), and it is immensely satisfying to do it yourself. Actually working in the trades is another story, for reasons others have given–it's physically punishing, often comes with few or no benefits, and it's hard to overstate the culture shock if you come from a white-collar/upper-middle-class-or-above background. Sexism and racism are ubiquitous–I'm lucky enough to work with enlightened people but I have witnessed how females/minorities are treated and it is often very ugly, and there is just a general tone of macho swagger, which includes disdain for safety concerns and any other hints of weakness, that becomes incredibly tiresome. If one is passionate about the work, though, I can attest that there are many, many excellent people in the trades and that there are few things better than having finished a long day of work and being able to see what you've done and know that it is good.
posted by generalist at 12:14 PM on May 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm really late to the party and probably no one will read this, but I'd really like to point out what a fucking phoney Mike Rowe seems to be. This "champion" of blue collar workers spent an awful lot of time on his blog at mikeroweworks.com railing against unions during the unpleasantness in Minnesota. He will also apparently shill for anyone, including the Koch brothers and their Viva paper towels, so go ahead and connect those dots.
posted by Roman Graves at 4:03 PM on May 22, 2011


That makes him pretty much on par with most blue collar guys I know. In case you've slept through the last few decades, unions aren't terribly popular in the heartland anymore, and a whole lot of people view unions as having been partly if not largely responsible for the demise of American industry and the reason why they're competing with China and Mexico to keep their job.

Some of the most brutally anti-union people I know are tradesmen who weren't union themselves but in some way supported industries that were heavily unionized and have since closed down. I can tell you from experience that as pissed as people might get about some Wall Street suit getting a multimillion dollar golden parachute, it's nothing compared to how much they hate knowing that the guy they went to highschool with is drawing a union pension while they're working at Home Depot, just because he had an uncle who got him into the union way back when.

It's a lot easier to hate that guy, and the union that's giving him a pension, than to try and hate something as indistinct as NAFTA or the decision to give China Most Favored Nation trade status or noninflationary monetary policy. The Koch brothers and WalMart and everyone else take full advantage of this.

I'm not going to argue this position on its merits, just pointing out that it's very popular, and probably the dominant labor narrative in many parts of the country.

Mike Rowe may just know his audience.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:28 AM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


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