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Bring Back Shop Class - Education is important, learning a trade is priceless


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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.

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Great Tire Deal

I agree, when I was in school we were offered, home economics, photography, shop class (wood working) etc. , and auto shop. I didn't take advantage of any of them.


I honestly believe that a lot of these courses were dropped due to the "danger" factor. Everyone is so scared of being sued these days it seems to be the easiest way to make money LOL. I mean you can't even spank your child in public anymore, now it is time out, not that I condone spanking your kids, but I do believe the severity of the crime needs a different punishment, timeout does not get the point across in my opinion.


That being said I think there are a lot of reason that there is a shortage of up coming techs/mechanics, and other trades. I think over the years everything has really trended to the education aspect of things you have to do really well in school go to a great school and get a good degree. I think all the traditional jobs that this country were built on are going to the waste side for many reasons, one being pay another being laziness . I started working when I was 12 years old at the local pool's snack bar then delivering papers etc. I always had a job I even worked after school (had to always get a work permit from the counselors office get it filled out and submitted to get a job). I think the work ethic is not really instilled in today's young. A lot of people I talk to say they don't want there kids to work they should just dedicate them selves to school. I agree in part, but they are missing a huge value that needs to be instilled in them and that being that you don't get anything free it takes a lot of hard work and dedication.


I also think that with all the street mechanics and no real regulations on who can work on cars has really given the business a bad name , I mean lets be for real in our industry the general population sees mechanics as rip offs, and I can't disagree with a lot of that because I have and still do work with some terrible rip offs. Who would want to get into a career where you are labeled as a rip off?


The younger generation wants to graduate from college and start making good money . In our field we graduate from a trade school or college course and we are given the back ground knowledge to get our foot in the door and start a career in the field, but there is still a ton we need to learn before we are "good techs" . Also our first several years most of our money goes towards buying tools. (which never ends just slows dramatically) . Where I work now there is a huge apartment complex across the street, they were hiring all the local kids during the summer to help move rubble as they were re-doing the underground parking. A few of the kids who frequent the shop to talk with the young kid that works there were working over there for about 3-4 days, I asked one of them why they quit, they said it was too hard, too much work, and they had guys (foremen) telling them what to do and how to do it, "they acted like we were their slaves" I explained to them that those guys had worked there way up and done the crap work they are now doing, had paid their dues now have a better part of the job, but you need to start somewhere. Of course they take it as bull shit, and they needed more pay for what they are doing. That being the general census . youngsters now a days just want to play sports or become musical artists etc. They see all the money and fame these people get and that is all they want to do, they don't realize that only a very few people will make it . Hard work and dedication is being replaced by desks, computers, social media, and the internet. Just google if you one should pursue a career in the automotive industry and you will find plenty of people advising against it.


The internet as wonderful as it is , has probably made the next generation very lazy. I mean what do kids do now a days?? They play video games, chat on line with their friends, facebook, instagram, basically sitting on their butts, I mean they even "cyber bully " one another. How many kids do you know now a days that are not carrying a cell phone? I think overall the problem is we have built a society that is more a less built on laziness. So any hard work careers are pretty much out the window.

Edited by skm
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I encourage my kids to learn a trade even if they do decide to go the college route. I almost went to college for computer programming. I was told about all the money I could make and all the jobs that would be available. Then the dot com bubble busted, there were more computer related employees than there were jobs and educated computer programmers were living in their mothers basements and working fast food. No thanks. I'll stick with doing real work to earn a decent living.


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I have a friend that is a part time teacher in the auto shop class at the college level. Problem is the students are not from the college but from the other schools that are making the bad students attend the auto shop class as opposed to tossing them from the school. Kind of a less punishment thing I guess. He said it is so frustrating trying to teach kids that don't want to be there, have no desire to learn and are just filling a seat till they are 'allowed' to graduate and leave. They are disrespectful, damage things and are making it difficult for the 1 or 2 students that actually want to be there. He said he concentrates on giving the 1 or 2 that want to learn 110% effort to let them be the best possible the rest oh well. The high schools in the area have closed down the auto shop class to save money, or cut costs and find it cheaper to farm the students out to the other school he happens to be working at. I guess things are changing and not for the better.

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Thanks for writing. I was one of those kids that wasn't a bad kid but took woodworking starting in the 7th grade and then other "shop" classes until my junior year when I could take auto mechanics. I never planned on doing it for a career, I just wanted to keep my junk running. It had its benefits as I worked on the principles and vice principles beaters.

My shop teacher was a German guy that had a transmission shop and loved airplanes. I spent many hours helping win on the weekends with various projects and even went up in one of his planes a few times. He even let my fly. It was a great experience and am grateful for what I learned. I went to work as a diesel mechanic right out of school and hated it. Crap was too heavy and the smell of diesel in the am wasn't my thing.


So after 2 years of being out of high school I went to a 2 year electronics trade school offered through Texas A&M (yes the greatest school in the USA). My grades in high School wasn't so great either. Funny thing is that all those classes I just couldn't do, or get interested in during high school came real easy and wasn't so hard when I was paying hard earned money to learn. I went on to work on IBM mainframes and all kinds of other electronics. Problem was I like to see outside and suits and ties just wasn't my thing. I was helping a guy in a new body shop on the side and ended going to work for him. People thought I was crazy to give up a job working on computers in the 80's to do collision repair. It was a great decision and did it for 10 years but started teaching all kinds of repair topics in the evenings and decided to start a company specializing in restraint systems and automotive electronics. Learned to write Visual Basic while developing a management system for the business then sold the business. Took off some time then went to work for a consolidator in the Collision Industry but really my desire was to learn as much as I can from them and then go open a shop in my community so I could perform my number one job of being the best father and husband I could be. Didn't need the biggest shop but wanted to be present in my children's lives and not miss any activity they were involved with. I started a small collision operation with 14 bays and then added a general service operation after a couple of years. I love what I do, I love the employees that work for me and I love our customers..


I still take lots of training, read lots of books, listen to lots of podcasts. I spend a minimum of 2 days a month out of the business doing some kind of training for my own growth. I tour at least one business a month that is not in my industry for ideas. I never missed an event my kids were involved in and still travel to watch my son play college football. I have a great staff that allows me the luxury of being able to leave at will. I encourage each employee to not miss their child's events even if they are in the middle of the day. I tell them just let us know about it and we can schedule around it. We're not doctors and nobody is going to bleed out or die on the table if they are out for a couple of hours.


All of this to say I wasn't "College" material by the high school councillors. I believe in education and place a high value on it, but just not the route most councillors are pushing on all kids..


I write this on my iPad mini as my wife and I are driving back from a football game. Her driving style leaves a little bit to be desired. So excuse the typos and grammar but keep in mind I'm not a college graduate either..



Sent from my iPad using Tapatalk

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  • 3 weeks later...

My parents and guidance counselors pushed me to go to a university. I enjoyed auto shop much more than English lit, but I gave in and went to Uconn. Besides the girls I met it was a waste of my time. I dropped out after the 1st semester and signed up for tech school. It was a good choice for me. I really liked fixing cars so I studied hard and applied myself andf graduated at the top of my class. There's no shame in doing what you love, even if its a "lesser" career. The guidance counselors fail to understand that the world needs smart mechanics, smart plumbers, and smart HVAC technicians.


Besides auto shop we had a world class metal shop sponsored partly I assume by Pratt & Whitney. My class of 1992 was the last class to use Bridgeport millers in high school. They auctioned the whole metal shop off that summer. Its pretty sad that there will be no machinists created in my hometown anymore. I still have the toolbox I made in 9th grade, it started as a sheet of metal. All the spot welds are still good. I recently ran it over with my tractor when it fell out of the bucket. Its still good. Try that with harbor freight.

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  • Have you checked out Joe's Latest Blog?

      It always amazes me when I hear about a technician who quits one repair shop to go work at another shop for less money. I know you have heard of this too, and you’ve probably asked yourself, “Can this be true? And Why?” The answer rests within the culture of the company. More specifically, the boss, manager, or a toxic work environment literally pushed the technician out the door.
      While money and benefits tend to attract people to a company, it won’t keep them there. When a technician begins to look over the fence for greener grass, that is usually a sign that something is wrong within the workplace. It also means that his or her heart is probably already gone. If the issue is not resolved, no amount of money will keep that technician for the long term. The heart is always the first to leave. The last thing that leaves is the technician’s toolbox.
      Shop owners: Focus more on employee retention than acquisition. This is not to say that you should not be constantly recruiting. You should. What it does means is that once you hire someone, your job isn’t over, that’s when it begins. Get to know your technicians. Build strong relationships. Have frequent one-on-ones. Engage in meaningful conversation. Find what truly motivates your technicians. You may be surprised that while money is a motivator, it’s usually not the prime motivator.
      One last thing; the cost of technician turnover can be financially devastating. It also affects shop morale. Do all you can to create a workplace where technicians feel they are respected, recognized, and know that their work contributes to the overall success of the company. This will lead to improved morale and team spirit. Remember, when you see a technician’s toolbox rolling out of the bay on its way to another shop, the heart was most likely gone long before that.
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