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Skilled Manual Labor Critical To US STEM Dominance 367

Doofus writes: "The Wall Street Journal has an eye-catching headline: Welders Make $150,000? Bring Back Shop Class. Quoting: 'According to the 2011 Skills Gap Survey by the Manufacturing Institute, about 600,000 manufacturing jobs are unfilled nationally because employers can't find qualified workers. To help produce a new generation of welders, pipe-fitters, electricians, carpenters, machinists and other skilled tradesmen, high schools should introduce students to the pleasure and pride they can take in making and building things in shop class. American employers are so yearning to motivate young people to work in manufacturing and the skilled trades that many are willing to pay to train and recruit future laborers. CEO Karen Wright of Ariel Corp. in Mount Vernon, Ohio, recently announced that the manufacturer of gas compressors is donating $1 million to the Knox County Career Center to update the center's computer-integrated manufacturing equipment, so students can train on the same machines used in Ariel's operations.' How many of us liked shop? How many young people should be training for skilled manufacturing and service jobs rather than getting history or political science degrees?"
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Skilled Manual Labor Critical To US STEM Dominance

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  • LOL ... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gstoddart ( 321705 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2014 @03:42PM (#46826777) Homepage

    How many young people should be training for skilled manufacturing and service jobs rather than getting history or political science degrees?

    As many as possible. I've said for years the real money lies in being a welder, plumber, or an electrician.

    All those people who have exhaustively studied the post modernism and sexism as exemplified by 17th century Gaelic poets with no left hand but who hadn't gone bald yet ... not so much. Because, as far as marketable skills go, some courses of study aren't exactly marketable at all.

  • by B33rNinj4 ( 666756 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2014 @03:44PM (#46826795) Homepage Journal
    If someone really wants to go to college, and major in history, they should still do that. Having a passion or interest in something, even if it might not pay all the bills, isn't a bad thing. That being said, if someone is languishing in college or still on the fence about going, picking up a trade can be a tremendous benefit. They might not stick with it over the years, but it gives them something solid to fall back on.
  • by litehacksaur111 ( 2895607 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2014 @03:45PM (#46826819)
    Where the hell are welders making 150k??? Probably like 5% of welders make that much. Most of the manual labor jobs (electrician, plumber, HVAC) make like 60k with 10 years of experience. New people start around 30k.
  • by RichMan ( 8097 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2014 @03:47PM (#46826837)

    Until the dangers of sitting at a desk get raised up a few more levels the spectre of injuries in shop class has pretty much banished the once wonderful hands on practical skills from the ciriculum.

    The lessons of the table saw and possibility of losing fingers or getting a 2x4 in the gut were taught to me in grade 8. I can't imagine the number of permission slips needed to allow such adventures in our modern school system. Also given the lack of funding currently in our systems the need for shop equipment, supplies, trained teachers and insurance is a financial burden I can't see the system taking on.

    Certainly there are pockets were it could but done but but it would take several revolutions in funding, responsibilty and trust before it could be implemented on a wide scale.

  • by kruach aum ( 1934852 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2014 @03:48PM (#46826857)

    Not everyone needs a college degree. In fact, most people don't need a college degree. What people need is stability and job security, and the "college degree == stability" heuristic is easy to learn but apparently hard to unlearn. If the only reason you're in college is "but I gotta get a degree, man" and you can't think of a reason why, drop what you're doing and go weld shit. I'm not even kidding. You'll make more money and have far better prospects than most other people in your position.

  • by Collective 0-0009 ( 1294662 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2014 @03:53PM (#46826905)
    I have a background in manufacturing. I have attended Chamber meetings, city gatherings, and focus group-thingies. I heard about this skills gap and how manufacturers needed good qualified employees but just couldn't find them.

    Well, it's bullshit. They can find them... they don't want to pay them. You really think a welder is going to make $150k anytime soon? No.

    The reason Ariel wants the local job center to have the same equipment they have is so they can pay some kid $9/hr (maybe) to run their machines. They don't want a truly skilled employee to run a machine all day. They want a dumb, barely passed maths kid that can follow instructions. Bonus if he already knows where they cycle stop button is located on your machines.

    I like this idea. I think more kids need job training. I do not think manufacturers are truly hurting to fill positions. My last company had no issues with filling positions, even if they wouldn't think of starting someone at more than $10/hr.

    I am not here to bash US manufacturing, as I do think it is vital to US success. But let's not look at this like all the non-tech's look at H1-B's and think that the poor manufacturers are just a victim of our lack luster education system.
  • by cahuenga ( 3493791 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2014 @03:57PM (#46826959)
    More Wall Street pimping of the "skills mismatch" myth, disproven repeatedly. Wages are not increasing for so-called mismatched skills and it might be interesting to see some actual studies rather than anecdotes being shovels out of manufacturer's lobby groups. Good grief, this is being reported as factual news?
  • Re:LOL ... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 23, 2014 @03:59PM (#46826977)

    All those people who have exhaustively studied the post modernism and sexism as exemplified by 17th century Gaelic poets with no left hand but who hadn't gone bald yet ... not so much.

    Meh, it depends what one wants out of life. I chose to study a humanities field at university and now work in academia. As a researcher, my income is squarely lower middle class, but so what. The job pay me enough to get by and indulge in the occasional luxury, and I have plenty of time to travel or pursue other interest. I don't plan on having children, I am fine with renting a flat instead of owning my own house, I live in a country where there is no need to own a car, and I can look forward to a small but sufficient pension.

    The high-salary "American dream" that some Yanks here on Slashdot seem to think the goal of human existence has very little appeal for me. Sure, it is loads of money, but it also means long working hours, where telecommuting isn't usually an option. It involves sinking that money into things like a house which tie one down and suck further time and money from you when maintenance has to be done.

    Those who mock studying comparatively unlucrative subjects fail to understand that there are many types of people in the world.

  • by snoig ( 535665 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2014 @04:02PM (#46827013)

    From the article: A good trade to consider: welding. I recently visited Pioneer Pipe in the Utica and Marcellus shale area of Ohio and learned that last year the company paid 60 of its welders more than $150,000 and two of its welders over $200,000. The owner, Dave Archer, said he has had to turn down orders because he can't find enough skilled welders.

    So in reality what you have are some welders putting in long hours in the oil fields and probably working 70 to 80 hours a week so they are getting paid lots of overtime. In the real world, that doesn't sound so good. It's no wonder Pioneer Pipe can't find people to fill positions.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 23, 2014 @04:04PM (#46827031)

    "Can't find cheap" /= "can't find".

    Becoming a real pipe welder requires superb hand-eye coordination, excellent close vision under welding conditions, and much more experience than you can
    get out of "shop class". It tales talent and absolutely dogged determination.

    American employers want cheap workers but won't train and grow them themselves. They want to hire off the street then discard when the contract is done, but be able to pick up where they left off from a pool of skilled people eagerly awaiting the opportunity to cup balls.

    "To help produce a new generation of welders, pipe-fitters, electricians, carpenters, machinists and other skilled tradesmen, high schools should introduce students to the pleasure and pride they can take in making and building things in shop class."

    No, that's an UNFOCUSED investment. Invest in trade schools and weed out the seat-fillers so you actually graduate capable people.

    Doing that doesn't suit the revenue model of most schools. Community colleges (I worked in one training weldors and now attend it taking CNC machinist courses) could produce enough trained workers, but the pressure to fill class seats means high rates of people who pass the course but are unsuited for demanding work.

    Machinists don't make shit. The "hot dog cart" is a standing joke in machinist forums which you may visit if you doubt me. Real machinists do what they do because they love the work, but many move elsewhere so they can make more money. I'm studying CNC for fun, but I wouldn't try to get into that field for a career. It's too easy to get stuck as an operator due to lack of upward mobility. Good operators make their bosses money, but don't necessarily get to keep much of it.

    Any employers reading this, consider what works elsewhere and worked superbly in the past. APPRENTICESHIPS with a CAREER PATH.

    Apprenticeships train your people your way, and a career path keeps them onboard because gratitude doesn't pay fucking grocery bills.

    Better yet, just outsource to someone who gets this. If you have to ask why you can't get good people you are incompetent.

  • Re:LOL ... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 23, 2014 @04:05PM (#46827049)

    Not that I don't disagree with the pursuit of liberal arts degrees for actual real dollars, but these headlines are just a way of cutting wages.

    " is making , there is a shortage of ."

    Other x's in the past year: "Computer Scientists/Programmers", "Nurses", etc. Yet if you're really inside on the profession you realize there is actually quite a lot of unemployment in those areas, frequent layoffs, seasonal or sporadic openings, unpaid relo required and the salary quoted is for the highest, most senior, management level of that profession for which there is absolutely no shortage.

    Yes I want to live in a world where welders are more valued than investment bankers, but that doesn't make it true. If you don't care what you do and just want money: be an investment banker. The best qualification is to be the offspring of one, but almost as good to boink ones son or daughter well enough that you get hitched, then they sorta have to let you in the club or their kid is in trouble.

  • by rolfwind ( 528248 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2014 @04:05PM (#46827055)

    I banged the drum of the German model before, but basically you apprentice somewhere for low pay (note, still pay) which increases each year. After that, you have a skill in demand and cannot be copied by someone that gets 2 weeks training or some such at a corporate camp in America.

    My cousin went that route, going as a chef. First he wanted to stay in America, but would have to give out $60k over multiple years at one of the premiere schools here and it wouldn't be training at a real kitchen, but a student kitchen. Great theory and all but just not the same. Also, all he'd interact with would be other students and a handful of professors.

    He went over there, snagged an apprenticeship at a very well respected hotel, and worked in varying stations in the restaurant kitchen from day one. A real kitchen that had to push food out the door at peak hours of lunch and dinner. And he got paid enough to live on and even save. Also got some theory at a state school they sent him every season (free). Now that he's out, his "European-trained chef" credential open a lot more doors than the stateside degree.

    As I see the American model, it looks like most of the liberal arts degrees jobs require is to make sure they don't get an idiot who got passed along in the public school system. However, the degree is often meaningless in context of the job.

    We essentially sold the youth of this country down the river, having diluted the high school diploma to toilet paper and promising them that an expensive college degree is a good way into a good job. Jobs that are increasingly not there.

    If you look at trends of service jobs and outsourcing, the return on a non-stem degrees is questionable compared to having tangible skills that cannot be employed in China and bought back here in a finished product.

    Looking at the longterm trend of US's economy (thanks to it's debt), I would definitely jump onto the skills market again if I were coming out of High School and not all into STEM degree.

  • by rubycodez ( 864176 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2014 @04:06PM (#46827065)

    no pride? Fitting three foot diameter stainless pipes that will take 2,000 psi and 900 degree superheated steam can't be a source of pride? making skyscraper can't? doing asbestos abatement on a power plant safely and properly can't? rebuilding and replacing a pump the size of a house can't? nonsense, I've worked with those people, they take huge pride in their work and are very much valued and sought for in industry.

  • by WarSpiteX ( 98591 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2014 @04:17PM (#46827199) Homepage

    Looking at the comments so far, so many of them talk about safety and comfort being the reasons people take desk jobs rather than blue collar.


    After 40 years of continually shitting on unions, blue collar work, and glorifying every other career choice (badass cop! miraculous doctor! patriot marine! caring nurse! brainy engineer! saint virgin-for-life network guy!), Americans are now wondering why nobody wants these jobs.

    And now that those who stuck with it are getting paid, suddenly there's a "labor shortage" and we'd better fucking train some people before they realize that a shortage of labor is an excess of pay.

  • by Trepidity ( 597 ) <delirium-slashdot@@@hackish...org> on Wednesday April 23, 2014 @04:24PM (#46827287)

    You can't get the kinds of skills being talked about here through 1- or 2-year vocational programs, though. There is virtually no market for starting welders, because the low-end stuff has been automated or outsourced. What's in demand are people with at least 5+, preferably 10+ years of experience in specific high-skill niches. You can't pick those skills up by taking a year or two of classes at the local community college; you need a more involved apprenticeship program, or a career path where you start in an entry-level job and work your way up. But those entry-level jobs and apprenticeships are few and far between. A few unions provide some training paths (this is common among electricians), but those are way over-subscribed with long waiting lists, too.

    In short, if you could magically take an 18-year-old high school graduate and make them a master welder through a 1-year vocational program, then yeah, they'd have their pick of jobs. But how do you do that?

  • Re:LOL ... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Charliemopps ( 1157495 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2014 @04:27PM (#46827325)

    I was a licensed welder for 10 years. It doesn't pay that well.

    It's kind of like getting your CCNA. It doesn't pay well unless you get into one of the specialties. That $300k per year is what you get if you're welding under water or on a sky scraper. You really have to know what you're doing. Know what materials you're welding, use the exact right gas mix, have $50k worth of equipment, have all your welds Xrayed and inspected. I'm really good at welding and the few times I'm had my welds Xrayed has been pretty shaming. Those $300k dudes are earning their keep.

    I actually think this article is demeaning to those in the trade fields. It would be like comparing your local ISP's helpdesk guy to one of Googles top developers. Just because it involves "welding" doesn't mean it's even remotely the same job.

  • Re:LOL ... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by plopez ( 54068 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2014 @04:39PM (#46827435) Journal

    "where telecommuting isn't usually an option"

    Telcommuting implies your job can be offshored. A welder working on bridges in the US cannot have his/her job sent off shore.

  • Re:LOL ... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 23, 2014 @05:12PM (#46827717)

    It just occurred to me that I think of welding the same way people think of tech workers.

    Welding is welding, two pieces of metal welded together, how hard could it be?

    Coding is coding, type some instructions and the computer does it, how hard could it be?

  • Re:LOL ... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by geekoid ( 135745 ) <`dadinportland' `at' `yahoo.com'> on Wednesday April 23, 2014 @05:24PM (#46827801) Homepage Journal

    way less money. You still have that pesky thing where you may have to kill people.

  • Re:LOL ... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by quarterbuck ( 1268694 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2014 @07:09PM (#46828623)
    The Wall Street Journal article is wrong. There is no state in the US where even the top quartile of the welders earn anywhere near $150,000. You can look it up on DoL website [bls.gov] .
    The author is using anecdotes for evidence and appealing to commonly held assumptions (like yours) for theory.

Mathemeticians stand on each other's shoulders while computer scientists stand on each other's toes. -- Richard Hamming