Class Warfare Blog

July 15, 2013

Whither the Trades? Or is it Wither the Trades?

According to Mike Rowe (the Dirty Jobs host) there are three million jobs going begging in the U.S. because they basically involve working with one’s hands rather than primarily with one’s brain. There has been a well-known crisis in the “trades” as we call them (plumbers, electricians, carpenters, machinists, mechanics, etc. are referred to as the “trades”) and also there is a need for people in skilled positions outside of the traditional trades. So where are these people? These “professions” are assumed to be fairly well-paid and secure, but there are no takers.

Here are some of the factors.

Conservatives have waged war on middle class wages. Wages have increased only 4% in the last 36 years while productivity has gone up 98%. Back in the 60’s there was general agreement that when productivity increased, all phases of the operation benefitted from that. That is no longer the case, partly because. . .

Conservatives have waged war on unions. Our neighbor Canada hasn’t done this and about 30+% of jobs there are union jobs. We are down to less than a third of that, where we had the same level as Canada did just 40 years ago. If unions were so bad, shouldn’t Canada have collapsed under the boot heels of the unions? Instead, they sailed through the Great Recession with ease and had no, count them “no,” bank failures or bailouts.

Parents and school officials have been sold a bill of goods on the “future” to a large extent by business futurist types. Parents were told that if their kids didn’t have a college education, they would be doomed to a second-class life. Consequently they and the school officials who were taught to believe the same thing, moved their kids out of tracks leading to a trade and into academic tracks. The consequences? As dismal as you would expect. Some kids just flat out do not like the academic life. These kids are perfect to learn a trade. They weren’t allowed the choice. If I may use my own high school as an example. Sequoia High School in Redwood City, CA had, when I graduated in 1964, a well-known “shop” program. They taught mechanical drawing and architectural drawing (four years), they had metal shop classes, wood shop classes, automobile shop classes, and more. (This was pre-computer.) When I last was on campus, about 15 years ago, these shops, which were the subject of visits by delegations of educators from all over, were closed, chained and locked. Those trades were screaming for qualified applicants for good jobs and there were no training programs in the schools.

But the unions had apprentice training programs, didn’t they? Oh. . . .

Get the picture?



  1. Great points Stephen. I think too that many companies who laid workers off back in 2008-09 when the economy was slumping were and are slow to hire people back. What tends to happen here is that the remaining employees work longer hours to fill the shortage, often with no increase in pay or benefits.


    Comment by lbwoodgate — July 15, 2013 @ 1:31 pm | Reply

    • Absolutely! Corporate profits are huge right now because they are not only suppressing wages, they have the fear of losing one’s job to keep any new requests off the table. Conservatives have always favored high unemployment because it holds wages down.


      Comment by stephenpruis — July 15, 2013 @ 2:00 pm | Reply

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