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Perspective: Remember shop class?

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Furniture by Andrew Nelson

Remember the stigma associated with shop class when you were in school, where the alleged not-so-smart kids (mostly boys) spent part of their school day? At the same time in those same schools, the mark of high distinction was a high percentage of graduates going on to four-year colleges and universities. Trade schools and apprenticeship programs were for those “shop class” kids.

Those misguided beliefs still prevail, and our country is paying a high price. A recent study of the skilled trade labor market by the staffing company People Ready found the following:

- Workers in the skilled trades are aging out quickly.

- 40% of the 12 million people in the skilled trades workforce are over the age of 45, with nearly half of those workers over 55.

- Less than 9% of workers aged 19-24 are entering the trades.

The math isn’t hard: 40% of the skilled trade workforce will age out over the next 20 years, to be replaced by 30% fewer younger workers. And that’s a problem.

Case in point: Our general contractor who built our current house is seeing the same shortages in the building trades in our area. In fact, he lost his highly talented tile installer last spring when he moved out of our area. As it turned out, our basement bathroom was the installer’s last job before he moved. And had the installer moved sooner, we may still be waiting.

If you know young people who like working with their hands, strongly encourage them to explore a career in the trades. If you don’t, expect to wait a lot longer for the services, products and repairs that drive our economy.

Andrew Nelson has been involved in public education in northern Illinois for more than three decades.