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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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  • by Collective 0-0009 ( 1294662 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2014 @04:00PM (#46826993)

    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, the answer to your question is: "Pioneer Pipe in the Utica and Marcellus shale area of Ohio"

    I can't read the article, so I'll take your word on it. But if that is the case, this guy at Pioneer is an idiot. We paid welders between $30k - $40k. There is a whole metric ton of welders in the south that would take $200k and be up there in about 16 hours.

    Sorry, but I just can't buy into this. There is something more to it. You don't pay 3-4 times the going rate of an employee. If you do, you suck at business.

    Are these "Master Welders" that know the intricacies of the difference of sine and square waves and know the metallurgical properties that are affected by using each? Can they weld on any damn material in the known world?

    Hey, welders in Ohio, when you are done cruising in the Tesla and reviewing your massive investment accounts, can you hop on /. and tell us why you make as much or more than 99% of American and why you do but the welder in Alabama gets $40k + overtime?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 23, 2014 @04:09PM (#46827111)

    For real. There was piece in the local paper along these lines where they quoted a large firm in my area how they had skilled trade jobs at great pay for people with "math" skills where they would provide the training. "We just can't find people with the math skills to fill these positions". I gave them a call and we talked about my qualifications (calculus and linear algebra), and they told me that they had a position starting at 30k, I could make it up to 35k in three years!

    I'm doing significantly better than 30k while working 30-35 hours a week right now. These fantastic jobs for people who have a strong background in critical thinking and mathematics are just a bullshit talking point. You can make just as much waiting tables as what these guys are offering.

  • Re:LOL ... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by rolfwind ( 528248 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2014 @04:11PM (#46827125)

    I heard that airline pilots are getting paid shit now unless you're in a big plane:
    http://blogs.wsj.com/middlesea... [wsj.com]

  • by matbury ( 3458347 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2014 @04:17PM (#46827195) Homepage

    "Shop" and physically making things in school isn't so much about training people to do manual jobs at some point in the dim and distant future. Physically manipulating materials, objects, and tools helps to develop spatial awareness (AKA http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/S... [wikipedia.org]) which is a highly valuable and broadly transferable skill. If you want your kids to be good at Math, Physics, Chemistry, as well as the arts, design, etc., get them making stuff, taking stuff apart to see how it works, etc. from a young age. It'll work wonders for their cognitive development.

  • Mike Rowe (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Dcnjoe60 ( 682885 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2014 @04:20PM (#46827237)

    That's basically what Mike Rowe (Dirty Jobs) has been saying. He started a foundation to to provide funding for high school graduates to go to various skilled labor trade schools instead of college. Most skilled labor jobs are currently held by aging baby boomers and when they retire, there won't be enough people to fill the need. College isn't the answer for these jobs.

  • by Trepidity ( 597 ) <delirium-slashdot.hackish@org> on Wednesday April 23, 2014 @04:31PM (#46827369)

    While it's worked well historically, Germany is slowly moving in the other direction, in part because students who take the "vocational" path have much higher unemployment rates and much lower lifetime earnings that students who take the "university" path, even those who choose a liberal arts university path. There's been a bit of a worry that Germany is training too many people for jobs that don't exist anymore, while it has a shortage of people with information-economy skills, especially engineering and technology. Part of it also relates to language skills; being fluent in reading/writing English is increasingly an asset, and the vocational track typically doesn't include things like foreign-language study, which are reserved for the universities.

  • Re:LOL ... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by CRCulver ( 715279 ) <crculver@christopherculver.com> on Wednesday April 23, 2014 @04:43PM (#46827471) Homepage
    Telecommuting also implies that you can do your own job offshore, in another part of the world with lower cost of living. There are a lot of companies who would be quick to hire someone who demands a somewhat lower salary because he has relocated to e.g. a beach in Southeast Asia or a mountain town in Morocco, but is from the same cultural background as the people at the firm and speaks the same language. I know, I work like that.
  • Re:LOL ... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by AthanasiusKircher ( 1333179 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2014 @04:47PM (#46827503)

    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.

    Frankly, as a fan of the humanities, I find the summary and this sort of response to be offensive. It presumes that the only people who get humanities degrees are those without the ability to do science or engineering. As someone who works in a field full of people who clearly have the aptitude to do STEM fields, but choose humanities pursuits instead, I can say this is definitely not true.

    Don't pick on the history or political science degrees. Those -- along with English lit, classics, philosophy, etc. -- tended historically to produce lots of intelligent people with critical thinking skills. If I were looking to fill a random position in an area that didn't require STEM background, I'd much rather find someone with a history or political science degree than someone with a "business" degree. The business degree is where the real "dregs" of college often end up, who probably would be better off doing some sort of skilled labor or something. (Not saying that there aren't smart business majors, but percentage-wise, I'd say it's much more likely to find people there without any specific passion for learning, unlike those who end up in history or whatever.)

    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.

    Meh. This is an increasing problem in some humaniies departments that have been effectively converted into sociology departments, rather than history or literature or whatever. But someone trained in serious critical thinking about evaluating historical sources? Again, I'd definitely take that person over a similarly-qualified "business major" any day of the week... and if you wouldn't, perhaps you should talk to more historians.

    For people without the aptitude or interest to spend a lot of time with math or science, but have good other qualities (e.g., interpersonal skills, management skills, good work ethic, critical thinking skills outside math -- yes those people do exist), I'd like to see their brains honed by some doing some work that requires intensive study, problem-solving, and critical thinking in an area that excites and interests them.

    Personally, I think a lot of people shouldn't be encouraged to go to college who now are. Most people don't have the aptitude, interest, or skills to succeed in a traditional liberal arts curriculum. But the people who do don't usually end up choosing a history or polysci major because they're the dumbest ones at college.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 23, 2014 @05:02PM (#46827639)

    Which brings up the point, there are welders, and there are guys that can hold a torch without burning the shop down.

    I designed and oversaw the building of a welded aluminum frame product - for the first unit they had the lead welder on it, it was brilliant, came out perfect.

    Then, the next 9 copies in the prototype run were done by the "2nd class" welder - ugly, interference problems because the beads were so damn huge (3-4x bigger than the other guy), some parts came out dysfunctionally short because he melted so much bar stock into the weld, there was over 0.3" of tolerance on these things.

  • by King_TJ ( 85913 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2014 @05:09PM (#46827701) Journal

    I'm *positive* this is true. I spent well over a decade doing I.T. in manufacturing environments, and my wife spent years more working in similar facilities. Since then, I've also done on-site computer service calls for a number of manufacturing places (mostly steel fabricators and plastics molding companies).

    The one thing I've found in common at ALL of them is a strong desire by management to squeeze costs to the bare minimum, to the point where "standard practice" dictates using as much unskilled, barely qualified labor as possible, while sticking one or two "senior level" guys with the job expectation of training everyone else.

    Of course, this usually leads to disgruntled senior level workers, who feel like they have to spend most of the work day "babysitting" incompetent people all around them (while still being expected to turn out the same amount of work as they always did before). The other low-paid hires tend to be a revolving door, as management fires them whenever they don't learn something quickly enough, or they make a costly mistake or two while trying to learn.

    From the I.T. standpoint, I witnessed the same "penny-wise but pound-foolish" behavior more directly when it came to the equipment on the shop floor or in the labs. They'll invest tens of thousands of dollars on special equipment (most of which is tied in to a standard-issue PC running DOS or a flavor of Windows, except creatively mounted in some kind of steel cabinet so it doesn't *look* like an off-the-shelf PC on the outside). Then when something goes wrong, they want an I.T. guy like me to try to fix it, because the hourly rate for a service call from someone specializing in servicing it is "way too expensive". So far, I've been asked to tear into and try to fix everything from X-Ray Spectrometers to a control system for a "web press" machine that punches holes in steel beams as they roll down a conveyor belt. Truth is, if it's just something simple like bad RAM or a failing hard drive, sure -- I can eventually get that going for them again with a little trial and error. But so often, the issues have been with calibration (mechanical parts drift out of calibration over time, so the software needs some adjustment of values in it to compensate). Or it's some failure with an oddball hardware controller board in the system that I have no way of finding a suitable replacement for.

  • well.. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 23, 2014 @05:24PM (#46827797)

    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.

    Well, my old man did the technical school route (welding and plumbing for a year) in the 60s after a hitch in the Marine Corps, then went through five years of apprenticeship as a pipefitter/welder with a union local here in the Midwest. Everybody howls how it's obscene that they make 32 bucks an hour (time and a half over 40, double time on Sundays), but he's damned good (has worked all types of job sites, including nuke units), and he passes inspection nearly every time when the engineer comes around with the x-ray unit. On top of that, last I checked they still regularly test you when you newly arrive to a job site.

    To me, it's a skill, almost like being an artist. I can't do it. On top of that, I don't know how the education is now, but they even got into basic metallurgy and materials science, not just reading blueprints and such. I work as an electronics technician and systems administrator, and I have much respect for him.. especially when he's out there in about five layers of clothing freezing his ass off in a field some place working. He might make 80k a year, but he damned well earns it.

    It really pisses me off when I see the UAW and the like screwing it up for some of the skilled trade unions. It seems to tar and feather all of the unions, and all unions are definitely not created equal.

    Even with the safety gear, you do wonder about all the shit they inhale on the job.

  • Re: LOL ... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Penguinisto ( 415985 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2014 @06:53PM (#46828539) Journal

    The problem is all trade jobs are basically salary capped at lower middle class barely above poverty levels. You really don't have a chance at earning more than 50k a year.

    Well you actually do... if you're willing to risk your life or your health. Underwater welders and tradesmen make obscene gobs of money, but they usually don't live very long past the age to 50 due to the pounding their bodies take. Same with welders, fitters and etc who perch atop very tall or dangerous structures without the ability to use sufficient safety gear.

    I recall a long time ago as an apprentice ironworker (I basically fixed the eletrical/electronic gear) that the folks who worked high steel made a decent amount of money for the time. Hell - I made fairly good bank at the time for a 22-year-old.

    On the other hand, there was (and is) a very true saying that no ironworker stays in the job more than 10 years without losing an appendage in the process (and quite a few guys lost a hell of a lot more than that.) Hell, I almost lost my left index finger, in spite of my being fully diligent about safety - shit just happens when not everyone is paying attention (I now tote around a little artificial joint - apparently it was cheaper than amputation, since that meant paying me $50k in accident benefits). It was enough to get me towards better pursuits after just three years at it, in spite of the money.

  • by fullmetal55 ( 698310 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2014 @07:27PM (#46828741)

    You aren't from Alberta are you?

    and yeah layoffs at the end of the season are common, but they're still pulling in big bucks ($150k easily) in the oil sands. Now granted up on the rigs a do-over is very expensive, so you have to be a good welder to get the job done right the first time or you will get fired quickly. and if we could get a welder for $12-18/hr... those would be very inexperienced crappy welders. I'm sure I could do a better job than the guys who'd do it for $12-18 an hour here. My town has more welders per capita than most other professions.

Money is better than poverty, if only for financial reasons.