Bring Back Shop Class
There was a time in American history when most skills were taught by a mentor or someone who had achieved a masters level of experience in their given trade. A young lad or lass would follow them throughout the day, watching and learning the skills needed to be proficient in whatever trade or occupation it might have been. But, as time went on the lengthy process from apprentice to master was overshadowed by mechanization and the industrial age.
Family farms were still abundant, but factories needed skilled workers as well. Things were about to change in those early years of this country. During the war years when everyone that was available to drive a rivet or wield a cutting torch worked in factories to build planes, tanks, and anything else the country needed. Less effort was placed on apprenticeships and learning a craft, instead it was more of “just do one aspect of an assembly line job and leave the next step to someone else”.
Cars prior to this time were mostly hand built by a team of men and women. They learned their trade through years of hands on experience, but the assembly line won out over the time consuming hand built era of the automotive world. As time went on, things started to change again. This time, it wasn’t about production or apprenticing in a trade; it was more about academics. There was a time when introducing a student to the various trades was just as important as learning your ABC’s. But now, the task of learning a trade fell onto the schools and not the tradesmen out in the field.
The policy at a lot of public schools for the past few decades has been to prepare graduates for college and not for blue collar trades. However, in a lot of states a student can still decide to go to a vocational or an academic school, usually around 9th grade. Even with that there’s a growing problem of a vast shortage in the various hand skilled trades.
Everything from brick layers to mechanics have a very low number of up and coming apprentices. A lot of trades don’t even have apprenticeship programs anymore. Why is that? Maybe, after getting into vocational school a student found out they didn’t like that field, but are stuck with it until graduation, or in reverse, a student in the academic schools figures out they’ve got a natural ability in all things mechanical but, again... they’re in a school pushing for academia rather than vocational.
A lot of public school systems lean more to sports and academics as a way to promote themselves or their students. I suppose it’s a lot easier to sell tickets to a football game to support their curriculum, or find getting notoriety from a tri-state academic quiz can gain more dollars into their till than teaching a student how to repair a lawn mower.
I’m from the generation that still had shop and home economics classes as part of the regular schedule. Although looking back on it now, the shop class had a very narrow span of the different blue collar trades as part of the curriculum. I would imagine that had a lot more to do with time and expenses rather than anything else. But, the examples of the trades that were offered reflected the job market in the area that I lived in, such as welding, wood working, plumbing, mechanics, etc... It was a good introductory class in all the various phases of job opportunities, and you could pick which one you would like to spend more time on for your end of the year school project.
I’m all for college, and I’m all for a format based on college prep. Some people (myself included) find certain school subjects a real pain, or taking a long arduous test a nerve racking event. But, that same person might find themselves better at taking a test by physically accomplishing a task rather than with a paper and pencil. Such as, if you were to take a test on how to lay brick and your assignment was to build a wall so high and so wide. It might be your calling. But, the way most public school systems are set up these days you may not know that until you’re out of school and have decided to go to a trade school or college. Now, you have to ask yourself, “Have I chosen the right trade for myself, or not?”
I have a son in college, and I’m so proud that he is getting an education in a field he enjoys. And, I personally know he has made the right decision. He’s not very mechanically inclined, and has very little interest in anything mechanical or any ambition in following in his father’s footsteps. There’s nothing wrong with that, in fact I’m all for it. Because it’s not the “follow in your father’s footsteps” thing that I’m concerned about; it’s what career path is right for him. His interests went on a different path than mine. He is more interested in the intricate and difficult field of computer sciences. But, what about the kid who’s parent doesn’t have any college background, skilled trade, or a reasonable DIY’r aptitude? How would they know what field is their best choice? My vote is on getting involved with a shop class at school.
I learned a lot from my father as far as blue collar skills, but I learned just as much, if not more, from my instructors in shop class. I admired their skills and tried to emulate exactly what they were teaching me. I knew right then and there that working with my hands was what I wanted to do for the rest of my working life. There’s no doubt my background in those various skills taught in shop class had a lot to do with where I’m at today. But, is the blue collar trades for everybody? No, they’re not. Is college something everyone should attend? Well, if you’re defining college as a place you go for 2 to 4 years... No.
How many people do you personally know who attended college and don’t work in their field of choice? I know quite a few, and I probably know just as many who worked in various blue collar trades, but then gained skills or education needed for a completely different field. Not everyone is cut out to take on a job such as a professional mechanic, or for that matter… a brain surgeon. Obviously, there are different skills needed and different training. However, neither of them are an easy job by any means, and I’ll have to add, in both fields, not all the knowledge needed to be good at either trade is learned entirely from a book. It still takes years to develop the skills to master either trade.
My whole point of this story is to find an answer to the shortage of technicians/mechanics out there. In my opinion, the answer goes back to the high school shop class. Teachers and mentors are the people who inspire the next generation to get involved with the various trades. That inspiration might just be the missing part. Let’s get back to teaching the hands on trades, as well as thinking about an academic degree. It might make a difference in a young person’s life, as well as giving them a direction to succeed in their future.