August 30th, 2010

Skilled workers wanted

A survey reveals a shortfall of skilled workers such as carpenters, welders, and electricians in many of the countries of the West:

The shortage of skilled workers is the No. 1 or No. 2 hiring challenge in six of the 10 biggest economies…Skilled trades were the top area of shortage in 10 of 17 European countries, according to the survey.

The short-term suggestion: importing workers from other countries. Long-term: encourage more people to go into the fields.

I’ve never understood this business of looking down on skilled laborers. I envied them, in a way. They comprehended the workings of mechanical objects, something I’m bad at. They never sat staring at an item like a camera, wondering how to open the little door in order to change the batteries, nor did they stand in frustrated puzzlement in some hotel bathroom at 3 in the morning, pushing the thingamagig that controlled the shower this way and that in a futile effort to find the magic combination of movements that would send the water coursing from the shower head.

What’s more, I had always heard that trades were survival skills, especially good in a situation such as the Depression (my parents had lived through that), in which such services might be traded for goods, and the ability to repair things and keep old machinery going was especially vital. Knowledge of skilled trades was also particularly valuable (and movable) during wartime, when refugeeing from conflict or persecution could become necessary. Those who survived World War II often did so by having such skills, instantly transferable and not requiring the acquisition of a new language.

Now, nearly everybody seems to want to go to college, although not everyone is suited for it. I’m saying that as someone who was suited for it, but never valued the ability overmuch, nor thought it made me better than someone who dealt in more concrete pursuits (such as, for example, concrete). Perhaps that’s because I grew up in a mostly blue collar community, and observed quite early on that the intelligentsia had no corner on intelligence or common sense.

119 Responses to “Skilled workers wanted”

  1. ghost707 Says:

    Looking at the job opportunities here in Austin, Tx and surrounding areas – if you have a van, a ladder and know just about any skilled trade – plumbing, electrician, HVAC etc – you have a job.

    It requires hard work, but it’s pretty much guaranteed employment.

    BTW, my ex-employer called me last week to offer me a job with one of their clients needing a network admin.

    It counts to never burn your bridges.

  2. Steve Ducharme Says:

    I occasionally find myself in a conversation about cars or plumbing with a man in my age bracket and in many instances it dawns on me that he has no idea what I’m talking about. Not even a little. I have always found this complete lack of curiosity about the “machines” of life to be somewhat (dare I say) unmanly.

    I’m 47 years old and even though I work In in fron of a computer doing CAD all day (since 1984) I have always maintained my own home (paint fences plumbing and such) and cars (to the extent possible on today’s machines). I also restore vintage motorcycles as hobby. No one ever showed me “how” to do it. I just proceeded and persevered. From a very young age I just assumed it was something a man was supposed to learn as life went on. I feel a little sorry for those who don’t as it can be very… very… satisfying comes to mind but there is a better word I’m sure.

    And yes I know many women who can hold their own with a hammer and wrench. I’m raising my very girly daughter to be one of them and she loves it.

  3. SteveH Says:

    We skilled workers are just smarter. We never get stuck in some cubicle while at the same time saving on things like household repairs and gym memberships. A great day is a new scrape on a knuckle and getting sweaty dirty.

  4. jon baker Says:

    Restarted my Fence buisiness last week. I had shut it down about 20 months ago but decided to start back up. Now if I can only get this tool inventory and value completed for the local Buisiness Personal property tax people. Thankfully, it is only 2% of value for tools.

  5. jon baker Says:

    Thankfully, you get to deduct one vehicle from the tax. Not that my truck with 268,000 miles is worth a lot…..

  6. anna Says:

    Nice, I am an engineer and I still feel useless a lot of the time. It would be nice to have a transportable skill (not that engineering isn’t) that I can do on the side without massive amounts of malpractice insurance. I also have an anti-moonlighting clause at my current employer (although everyone breaks it).

    Here is something of interest :

  7. expat Says:

    Your link only got me to the comments section of the Yahoo article, but I found this at MSNBC.

  8. Marine's Mom Says:

    My Dad was a plumber and he was one of the smartest men I have ever known. He grew up during World War II in England and had to leave school when he was 14. My husband is more of an intellectual and it took some getting used to the fact that he couldn’t fix or build anything like my Dad could!

  9. Wolla Dalbo Says:

    I needed some carpentry work done a few years ago—the replacement of a rotted out section on the outside wooden base of the double doors to my deck, which repair I wanted to be pretty much invisible, and I had quite a time finding someone who was willing to do a small job and who could speak English here, outside the Washington. D.C. beltway.

    Well, I finally did find someone who did a great job, and he drove up in a van filled with equipment and set up his saw and other equipment in my driveway, but it wasn’t cheap and he took a couple hours to cut out the rotten section and to craft a piece of scrap mahogany that fit the now missing section perfectly; he was a perfectionist. But while he worked we talked, and he said that the reason there were so few carpenters around was that all his buddies had pretty much been driven out of business by local Hispanics* who had undercut their prices so dramatically that pretty much all of them had either quit carpentry and/or moved to nearby West Virginia, where it was a lot cheaper for them and their families to survive.

    *Until the subprime mortgage bloodbath hit, where I live was one of the densest areas of illegal alien—almost entirely Hispanic—settlement in the Washington, D.C. metro area, and when they swarmed in we started to see large groups of Hispanic men hanging on formerly quiet street corners, I found their wives and children begging, trying to hit me up for money in supermarket parking lots, we saw the first appearance of shops for wiring money back to Mexico or offering “payday loans,” the local newspaper started to carry stories about housing code violations–with dozens of often unrelated Hispanics or several families crammed into single family homes and illegal “flophouses,” and stories about police raids on our first brothels—for Hispanics only–in what had been a peaceful and law abiding town. There was a general increase in both violent (MS-13) and property crime, as well as a noticeable increase in traffic accidents involving Hispanics driving jalopies, who were often discovered to not only not have a driver’s license but usually had no insurance as well, the local schools were overflowing with these Hispanic’s children and teaching ESL was a real growth industry, and, as I discovered, the local emergency rooms were full to overflowing with these Hispanics and their often large families (and our formerly solvent local hospital reported that they had to pay out several hundred thousand dollars one year for “treatment of the uninsured” in our relatively affluent area). Sometimes driving into the nearest town and seeing all of the rough types hanging out or mooching around made it seem like I was like driving through Nuevo Laredo.

    Came the subprime mortgage “crisis” and whole formerly Hispanic neighborhoods were peppered with foreclosure signs, as the recipients of these sweetheart loans they couldn’t pay were foreclosed on or just walked away, but I suspect that their absence hasn’t brought the carpenters back to our area, and that most of these carpenters may be gone for good.

  10. Foxfier Says:

    To be a skilled laborer, you have to first be an unskilled laborer.

    Before you’re unskilled labor, you’re unskilled, inexperienced labor.

    (No idea if anyone else counts that group, but I know it exists– a lot of ranch, farm and ag work is “unskilled” labor, but there is a world of difference between a guy off the street and someone who can run a swather, or is a good apple picker. I don’t even want to IMAGINE pruning….)

    Not a lot of openings for unskilled, inexperienced labor , since many are willing to hire experienced illegals for less than inexperienced folks, and those who will hire inexperienced folks are facing roughly half again the cost of the persons’ wages in extra costs, not counting insurance.

    The unskilled, inexperienced folks are also (no offense) much more likely to be of lower average intelligence– anybody with decent grades is told from early on they’re expected to go to college. Folks with half-decent grades or who drop out are pushed to trade colleges. Bright and traditional minded guys are likely to be drawn to military service, since you can get training, college and a steady paycheck.

    Other than high school or college kids who need the cash, you end up with folks like a lot of the hired hands I’ve seen– really, really, REALLY not bright, criminal records, personality issues, SOMETHING fairly big that keeps them out of other employment, rather than them choosing the jobs.

    Ignore that point, and look at what the average, legal, new-to-the-workforce (going off of US population and past patterns) person going for those jobs is going to be: white male.

    If they’re smart, they’ll look at what they can expect if they should become a law-abiding owner of their own business: discrimination five ways from Friday. Yay, dead-end job!

    An electrician relative, before he went back to just union work, was looking into making his wife the technical owner of his business– couldn’t get government work because he was a white male, couldn’t get private work because he only hired good, legal workers and built everything to code. Another relative did the same with their business, even though the lady only does the book keeping.

    How about the folks who AREN’T strictly honest but are willing to do manual labor? It’s only intelligent to work in the summer and take unemployment in the winter– I know a couple (who are not married, for tax reasons) who are truckers. They make great money for long enough to qualify for unemployment, take UI until it’s out, repeat. Both file claims for work-related injuries at the drop of a hammer.
    It’s nothing they’re ashamed of; they’ll explain in great detail exactly what they’re doing and how you can get in on this great deal. Several of the guys I was in the Navy with likewise viewed the system as a game– three of them were getting college money grants from their home states, the state of California and from the Navy. Another figured out how to claim his illegitimate son for Naval purposes, while his “baby momma” claimed him for tax and welfare purposes.
    There is an incredible amount of intelligence involved in such scams. Imagine if it was turned to simi-productive goals, instead…..

  11. expat Says:

    I am certainly not skilled at anything manual, but I think I absorbed the love of problem solving from my father and grandfather. I especially love fixing up apartments (cosmetic work) and houses (structural work) on a budget, and I love deliberating with the actual workers on how to solve a particular problem I inherited from a former occupant (not Bush). Our current house needed a complete redo when we bought it from wiring and heating to kitchen and baths. We had 22 individual small companies working here, and the owners were some of the nicest and most creative people I’ve met. It was really neat to have someone come up with a duct tape solution to my problem when he knew I couldn’t afford a cadillac solution. And all of these people had a wide range of interests outside their professions.

    I’ve read very interesting exerpts from Shop Class as Soul Craft. The whole image of the manual worker needs a makeover.

  12. Baklava Says:

    I have mad skills…..

    mostly because I can just look at something and figure it out and do it.

    Like when my hot water heater went out. I replaced it. Hauled the old one to the dump.

    Like when my microwave was busted by my ex-wife (had it going too long by accident). I instinctively knew that a sensor (simple transistor) needed to be replaced. I found out which of the 3 sensors and replaced it.

    I tile, paint, replace cabinets, do electrical wiring, make jewelry, soap and candles, fixed my weed eater, garden, replaced sinks, toilet hardware, have done most things on the car except transmission work.

    What I don’t get – how and why liberals think the way they think

    If their policies of subsidizing people who make bad decisions spreads misery and reduces opportunity – which in turn makes less people prosper and more people dependent – WHY does the liberal believe they are more CARING?

  13. Baklava Says:

    I mean… I’ll sit and ponder…. crack a Coors open… think as I mow my lawn, edge it and pull weeds…

    Why can’t a liberal understand that their policies spread misery!!!

  14. Baklava Says:

    I’m still putting in crown molding in my house – and often I’ll daydream while I’m measuring… thus I’ll have to re-measure….

    but I’ll day dream and think – what a wonderful world this would be – if liberals had no power!!

    Take for example the depression of 1920-1921 (yes – those years not 1929). The depression ended quickly as Harding and Congress did the opposite of government today. Government cut spending, lowered tax rates and let the economy go from sputtering to roaring.

  15. Baklava Says:

    Steve Ducharme

    I can relate. Idiots I tell you !

    I sit in front of a computer all day too. I go home and while Fox News is on my 27″ tube in the background I’m working on stuff around the home.

    I’m very highly technical and the managers are coming to me for the answers and the other technical people are coming to me for the answers – yet there is this one woman (a liberal) who has a couple very wide screen televisions and an iPhone and she thinks that I have a lack of curiosity because I have a Motorola Tundra and a 27″ tube.

    I have to chuckle when she asks me how to wire her intercom to her front door area… I said to her, “get an electrician”. 🙂

  16. Steve Ducharme Says:

    To Baklava

    This is not new. They aren’t spreading “misery”. they are expanding their base.

  17. Gloria Says:

    America has moved from a society that values know-how to a society that values credentials.

    I lived for several years in an underdeveloped country and realized it was underdeveloped because the people valued credentials, rather than know-how. In practice, what that meant was that nobody knew how to maintain anything. For example, I had a bicycle. I was away for a month and told a local acquaintance he could use it while I was out of town. When I came back, the bicycle was in pieces–literally. Why? Because it never occurred to the man to tighten up any nuts or bolts on it. So when the seat tilted and a wheel got wobbly, he just kept riding it, and, of course, the wheel eventually twisted and broke. Also a pedal fell off.

    Similarly, when I bought some screening and lumber and nailed together several window screens to put on the house I lived in, the whole village turned out to watch the process. They couldn’t believe that I–a teacher–could know how to actually make something. The people in the village made nothing–they said they didn’t know how because they didn’t have a credential. I tried to teach them that you didn’t need a credential to make a screen or fix a bike–you just tried to do it. They didn’t understand. This is what is happening to America and part of the reason why the trades seem to be disappearing.

    The country is devolving backwards. Obama is an exemplar of the trend. It is what he encourages when he says everybody has a right to go to college. It is what the mainstream media encouraged when nobody asked what know-how Obama had and they only looked at his Harvard credentials–which in fact mean nothing because the credentials don’t represent know-how for an office such as the Presidency.

  18. Foxfier Says:

    Baklava, Steve-

    a lot of that stuff is technically illegal. Shoot, interior decorating without a license is illegal in some states…..

  19. Moss Says:

    Gloria: Well said.
    1) This article does not jive with the current man-cession. I see plenty of laborers out of work.
    Also, with skilled labor you eventually have to make the jump to business owner as opposed to employee. This is not easy.
    2) A lot of the problem is that we have …
    a) too much stuff that is disposable, literally not worth the effort to fix. Broken circuit boards often require fairly fine soldering or have components that are close to 50% of the price of a new version of the gadget.
    b) too little time. I loved ripping off the back half of my house and remodeling it. A few years later, with a new job and kids, I just don’t have time. It took me 1 month to put in lights in the barn. That should have been a 2 day project.
    c) The more you live in a city, the more often fixing things is your landlords problem.

  20. jhankey Says:

    Alot of it is social snobbery. It started probably 40 or so years ago when I was in high school. At that time several trades were taught at school with some teaching support from unions. Then “everyone most go to college” came along. Cultural and educational support for these programs disappeared and they withered away. I come from a family with over a 100 yrs of masonry and stone setting experience working with tools and contracting. I have observed the construction trade from all angles (union, non union, negociations, commercial, institutional, industrial, and residential). We’ve done ouselves in and I see no remedy in sight. I’m a little long, but in essence we need some type of training program for people starting around age 15 who want to learn a trade.

  21. anna Says:

    Gloria, I would be curious to hear what country that was – or the general part of the world if you don’t want to be too specific. I have noticed a similar pattern myself, just curious if it is a cultural thing or something else.

  22. david foster Says:

    Too many parents think that preparing their kids for success is mainly a matter of garnering the right credentials. They ignore the importance of meta-skills, or what used to be called “character”, and they drive with their eyes fixed on the rear-view mirror, assuming that whatever fields are hot at the moment are going to be those that are hot in the future.

    For the other Sebastian Haffner fans here, I’m reminded of this passage:

    “Is it not said that in peacetime the chiefs of staff always prepare their armies as well as possible–for the previous war? I cannot judge the truth of that, but it is certainly true that conscientious parents always educate their sons for the era that is just over.”

  23. vanderleun Says:

    People that can’t draw a circle going to art school to become “artists.” Don’t get me started.

  24. Cappy Says:

    Is stupidagentsia a real word? Google sez no. It ought to be.

  25. worminthewood Says:

    Lyndon Johnson’s Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare said, *An excellent plumber is infinitely more admirable than an incompetent philosopher. The society that scorns excellence in plumbing just because plumbing is a humble activity, and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because it is an exalted activity, will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy. Neither its pipes nor its philosophy will hold water.* IIRC Gardner made this observation during a commencement address. In the America of the time, it was little more than an elegantly stated commomplace. It seems to me that relatively few Americans — none of our ruling class and only a minority of our country class– believe this any longer. I think the effect on our economy, politics and social structure has been devastating.

  26. Gloria Says:

    Worminthewood, great observation. Who decided that plumbing is humble? That viewpoint must be questioned. In fact, our extended life-spans in the late 19th and 20th centuries is absolutely due to the proper disposal of human waste and the ability of people to wash themselves daily. This fact is from an English literature major of the 1960s–we used to learn this stuff in English courses. The importation of cotton from India to make underwear that was easily washable and the creation of sewage systems in the 19th century is the source of the greatest advance in human health in history. Why isn’t this taught in high schools? Why don’t the tradespeople get taught their history–the development of roads, the creation of cathedrals, the creation of our daily technologies–vehicles, highrises, elevators, trains?

    Anna, the underdeveloped country I lived in is in the Far East and remains underdeveloped–the key interest is is producing doctors and lawyers–“professionals with credentials;” the former mostly emigrate to the West.

  27. JThoits Says:

    Every day on my computer, a pop-up ad states that if you make less than $49,000 or some such amount, President Obama wants to give you a grant to go back to college. What in the world is that all about? I worry every day that nobody will want to mow lawns, be garbage men, work in restaurants or do other types of manual labor. It is sheer idiocy to belive that everyone is “college material”. If everyone gets what they believe is a “college degree” no matter where it is from, who will perform these menial chores? Or is this where amnesty leads us?

    I see a lot of unemployed people with “college degrees” in our future.

  28. Mr. Frank Says:

    Prior to the advent of widespread academic testing fifty years ago there were many very bright farmers, mechanics, and skilled tradesmen. There were also plenty of dumb rich college students. The book “The Bell Curve” has a good discussion of this. Now bright kids are identified early and are guided into higher education. This was not a big problem when only 20% of high school graduates went to college. That left many capable young people to take on trades. Now that 60% go on to college (half don’t finish) very few bright people are left to take on skilled occupations. Universities drive this insanity to keep their numbers up.

  29. Occam's Beard Says:

    I once had to set up a stereo for an arts don (male, no less). That red wire to red terminal, black to black stuff is tough. Incredible, but a true story.

  30. Occam's Beard Says:

    Universities really need to be pruned back. All of the grievance studies departments are a waste of time and money, and should be eliminated. No one in his right mind would ever even consider hiring someone with a degree in grievance studies.

    Catch-all departments such as anthropology and sociology should be bled white (e.g., cut back to one-tenth of the number of their present faculty and students). They essentially serve as sumps for students who don’t belong in university in the first place, and who are wasting their time and the taxpayer’s money.

    There are others, but blitzing these departments would be a good start. There is a point in the existence of some of them (not the “studies” departments, however), but they’ve grown much too large because they offer an intellectual sandbox for students who don’t belong in university in the first place.

  31. rickl Says:

    This is a good topic.

    I’m a klutz when it comes to doing anything physical. I also don’t have much stamina and am afraid of heights. So that pretty much rules out any kind of outdoor work, especially roofing.

    Many years ago when I got my first car, I tried to learn how to do basic maintenance and repairs. Although I was able to do things like changing oil and replacing light bulbs, I soon found out that when I tried anything more ambitious than that, I usually ended up making things worse, like when I tried to adjust an alternator and snapped off the bolt, or when I tried to replace a worn rubber brake hose and twisted and broke the metal hydraulic line. That pretty much cured me of “do-it-yourself-ism”.

    Nowadays I bite the bullet and just pay someone who actually knows what they’re doing. I did paint two rooms in my house within the last few years, and last year after I had some doors and windows replaced, I painted the doors. It seemed to take forever, since I’m a perfectionist, but they ended up looking very good.

    I mow my own lawn, but hate edging, so I rarely do it; maybe once or twice a year. It needs it bad right now. Hopefully I’ll get to it soon. (I’ve been saying that all summer.) My fence is falling apart, and I’ve been planning to try to fix it when the weather cools off. It’s been ungodly hot around here all summer. It seems like I just have to buy a few sections of fence, rip off the old ones, and nail the new ones in place. I think I can handle that. We’ll see.

  32. JThoits Says:

    Occam: what do you think happens to all those sociology and anthropology grads who think they are entitled to six figure incomes after graduation? And to think Obama thinks we needs an endless supply?

  33. rickl Says:

    Gloria Says:
    August 30th, 2010 at 9:06 pm

    Who decided that plumbing is humble? That viewpoint must be questioned. In fact, our extended life-spans in the late 19th and 20th centuries is absolutely due to the proper disposal of human waste and the ability of people to wash themselves daily. This fact is from an English literature major of the 1960s–we used to learn this stuff in English courses. The importation of cotton from India to make underwear that was easily washable and the creation of sewage systems in the 19th century is the source of the greatest advance in human health in history. Why isn’t this taught in high schools? Why don’t the tradespeople get taught their history–the development of roads, the creation of cathedrals, the creation of our daily technologies–vehicles, highrises, elevators, trains?

    Preach it, sister! Ayn Rand herself couldn’t have said it better.

  34. Occam's Beard Says:

    Occam: what do you think happens to all those sociology and anthropology grads who think they are entitled to six figure incomes after graduation?

    I’m thinking “Burger King.”

    Seriously, what skills do majors in sociology or anthropology have that anyone would pay American money for? Anthro major? Off to American Samoa with you. Make up some more crap, a la Margaret Mead.

    I once had an HR type present me with the resume of a Women’s Studies major. I asked him how he thought if she had his job.

    He got the point.

  35. Occam's Beard Says:

    Sorry, should have read “how he thought she’d do if she had his job.”

  36. Occam's Beard Says:

    I find it hard to do stuff around the house if it takes any amount of time. I’m not that good at DIY anyway, but years of running things in academia and industry (instead of actually doing them) that I’ve lost the requisite patience to do a good job. I became so used to getting enormous amounts done by setting strategy, organizing and delegating to others that doing things myself stresses me out. It feels like driving down the freeway in first gear; no matter how furiously I work, I feel as though I’m relatively getting nowhere, and my stress level shoots through the roof.

  37. Ozyripus Says:


    I hear you. I grew up in a “Skilled Worker’s” family. who did quite nicely as a “small businessman” when he realized he was more able than his boss, and went out on his own.

    I also did quite nicely, as a first-generation American, in the Acadamy, because I by chance picked a scientific field, and enjoyed doing the real work in the field. I also could write effectively, if not gracefully — a skill which brings little cash to English Profs — since no one values their product, for good reason these past 40 years — but is critical in subjects and work that actually make real, necessary products and services.

    Another critical need, a coherent, standard family with both mother and father, and mother at home when the kids are little. Second, higher-than-average-IQ. Sorry, it just is necessary. Dumb works only in rap outfits. Then, some push, energy, and don’t blame others.

    And, a bit — a large bit — of good fortune (which has to be taken advantage of when it happens).

  38. Gringo Says:


    I lived for several years in an underdeveloped country and realized it was underdeveloped because the people valued credentials, rather than know-how.

    A story follows. When I worked as a drilling services engineer in Latin America, periodically a line for one of our sensors broke and I had to scurry 90’ up the rig to replace it. One time I did it after working night shift. I worked five hours past my shift to get the line reinstalled. I was TIRED. My degree didn’t mean my uniform didn’t get dirty. If it had to get done, it had to get done.

    As the year went on, I had helped replace that line three times. I once instructed a co-worker from a nameless Latin American country that he needed to scurry up the rig to help replace the line. The reply: I am a professional. That is a worker’s job. Lemme tell ya, that didn’t go over too well, neither with me nor with our immediate superior.

    Part of the problem with repair skills is lack of practice. Growing up on farms, people got a lot of practice in a wide variety of tasks. You learned to repair anything, because there was no alternative. People lack that practice these days.

    I have done some manual stuff with plumbing, cars, and electrical stuff, but most times I am content to hand the job off to the experts.

  39. rickl Says:

    If I recall correctly, what Obama actually said about college is that we should have the highest graduation rate in the world. That’s more of a paraphrase than an exact quote, but I think that’s about what he said. What the hell good would that do? Just kick students out the door with a diploma? Would they be scientists and engineers, or lawyers, administrators, and experts in grievance studies?

    As others have said, the notion that everybody should go to college was one of the most wrongheaded and destructive ideas that ever came down the pike. America was built by craftsmen and tradesmen, not people with degrees from the Kennedy School of Government.

    The Wright Brothers were bicycle mechanics who owned a store, and they got an idea of trying to build a flying machine. Thomas Edison spent a lot of his time in school staring out the window, lost in thought, and not paying attention to the teacher. How many would-be Edisons are we losing today to diagnoses of ADHD and Ritalin?

    A couple of days ago I was thinking about earthquakes in California. After the San Francisco earthquake in 1906, people just rolled up their sleeves and set about rebuilding the city. A store owner whose store got knocked down built a bigger and better store. Can you imagine what would happen today? Nobody would be allowed to lift a finger without permission from 16 different government agencies, all of which would want to micromanage any reconstruction that takes place. It would be Ground Zero on a citywide scale. Ten years later people would be wondering why nothing had happened yet.

    Glenn Reynolds has lately been talking about an “education bubble”. I think he is onto something. We need to get rid of the idea that everybody should go to college, and government needs to get out of the way of people who seek to make their own way in the world by their knowledge and skills, without degrees.

    We need to eliminate government student aid, which is basically a taxpayer subsidy of Marxist professors, as well as all race and sex quotas. Higher education should be a strict meritocracy. I’m in favor of academic scholarships to bright students who come from poor families, though. That can largely be done though private efforts, not government programs.

  40. betsybounds Says:

    Wow. Neo has got me started (again). This makes me think of so many things.

    A friend of mine, another (much younger) lady who used to be a geologist but who now (like me) works in the environmental field, once told me about someone she knew in school, a guy who was studying for a degree in jewelry making. She said she thought it was wonderful that her friend could now go to college and get a degree in his “field.” Her mouth fell open when I told her that I disagreed, that I thought jewelry-making was not an academic discipline, but instead a highly developed skill that fell under the heading of “trade,” or more accurately, “craft.” I said that I thought he would be much better served by something like the old European guild system, where he would work first as a journeyman and then an apprentice under various masters, and eventually produce a “masterpiece” and thence become a master jeweler himself. But this is what happens when the government decides not only that a college degree is the essential credential, but that the government should sponsor it. I don’t know how my friend’s friend did, but I’m pretty sure he might have run into trouble parlaying his BS or BA in Jewelry into an actual career amongst craftsmen who knew the craft far better than he did. And there’s little doubt that he graduated from college with a fair burden of debt, into the bargain.

    I saw the same thing myself, when I was an adjunct geology lecturer. There were loads of students taking geology as one of their sciences (they thought it would be easy) who had signed on to obtain degrees in the new fields of “Mass Communications” and “Recording Industry Management (RIM)” (our school, a state university, was just down the road from Nashville). Never mind that no one in the actual, you know, music industry was looking for any RIM laureates to induct into their business. No, it was nothing but a scam discipline, bogus in every way, that was designed to suck government education loan money up for the school. The actual recording industry was looking for people who had entered its paths at a low level and learned from the masters, advancing bit-by-bit through the studio system, first maybe as maintenance people and then helping the recording engineers work sessions, perhaps later assisting producers, and finally becoming engineers or producers themselves, after years of having proven themselves. You could make a good living at it if you did well, but no one walked in with a credential from a near-by university and started doing the actual work of taping sessions.

    My late father-in-law was a ‘cellist in a major symphony orchestra, and he owned and ran a violin shop on the side. Many years ago he sponsored a Polish violist and violin builder as a citizen, to work in his shop. This Polish man was a master violin builder from the European guild tradition who earned himself a violist’s chair in the same symphony orchestra, and worked in the violin shop. He was a master. There were not many better violin repairmen or builders in the region. It was a craft, and he had learned it from the very best people anywhere. He made a nice living working with my father-in-law, and playing in the orchestra. But he never considered what he did to be an academic discipline.

    All of these things are also true of electricians, plumbers, and chefs. There is precious little these people can gain from a university degree that advances their craft or trade, and there is much they can lose–not least of which is the associated debt. This debt will now, following Obama’s takeover of the student loan business, be owed to the government, and cannot be discharged through bankruptcy (I realize that student loan debt has never been dischargeable through bankruptcy).

    It’s all yet another step along the path of the government’s sucking up everything in sight.

  41. Tatyana Says:

    Doing something with my hands relaxes me and gives me grounding. Sewing, drawing, cooking, baking – lots of things other people think are easy but couldn’t do a half-decent job if their life dependent on it. Used to garden; not anymore – my back gives me grief.

    I don’t do plumbing or electrical work, or carpentry myself – but I give plumbers, carpenters and electricians drawings they can work off, check shop drawings and can participate in intelligent conversation on relative topics. And punch-lists. Oh how I do punch lists. Plumbers better beware.

    That’s because I am an interior designer. Yes, Foxfier – a nationally certified, licensed interior designer. Not a “decorator” – although I have nothing but respect for decorating profession – it’s a tough job, mostly emotionally and mentally, to deal with picky rich ignoratti. But it bothers me, as thousands of my peers that public have no freaking idea, none whatsoever what it means to be a designer and what’s profession consists of.

    You bet there should be a certification and it’s great that there is.

    Here’s a link to an overview of the occupation – in terms, enforceable in the court of law.

    Does it sound like somebody from Home Network can do it? I don’t think so. Does it sound like a “decorating”? Like oyu don’t need specialized knowledge to do it? Like anyone with no understanding of ergonomics, building codes, construction materials and processes and design skills can do it? I don’t think so. Her is another link – explaining why you should hire a certified designer and not delegate the job to contractor, plumber or an electrician – or even an architect or an engineer.

    Like Steve Ducharme, I, too, draw on CAD all day – but it’s such a small, visible part of an iceberg.
    And then I have to read some commenter on a blog, who most likely could never even understand the scope of my work, let alone attempt to perform a 1/10th of my workday let out a condescending remarks!

  42. Tatyana Says:

    2nd link:

  43. SteveH Says:

    “”but in essence we need some type of training program for people starting around age 15 who want to learn a trade.””

    Thats called having a son.

  44. rickl Says:

    Occam’s Beard Says:
    August 30th, 2010 at 10:00 pm

    I find it hard to do stuff around the house if it takes any amount of time. I’m not that good at DIY anyway, but years of running things in academia and industry (instead of actually doing them) that I’ve lost the requisite patience to do a good job. I became so used to getting enormous amounts done by setting strategy, organizing and delegating to others that doing things myself stresses me out. It feels like driving down the freeway in first gear; no matter how furiously I work, I feel as though I’m relatively getting nowhere, and my stress level shoots through the roof.

    Also, if you make enough money*, it just makes economic sense to pay an expert to do the job, rather that take far more time, effort, and aggravation to do it yourself.

    *That point is different for each of us, and different for each job. There’s no hard and fast rule. For example, a particular homeowner might be comfortable doing a plumbing job himself, but not electrical work, and vice versa.

  45. Foxfier Says:

    ever consider that I chose DECORATOR very carefully? Not “interior designer making choices that effect building code and safety”?

    It is ridiculous to have someone unable to choose colors and textures because they are not qualified to figure out what walls are load bearing.

  46. jon baker Says:

    I have been seeing this ad on TV for “The Hispanic Scholarship Fund”. In the Ad the mother is telling her son, in no uncertain terms, “He will go to College”.

    I have long thought that there should be more emphasis on Trade schools- like ones designed to get ASAE Certification for Auto Mechanics. I say this about all races. As others have noted here, the 4 year college thing has been pushed too far. The technical schools can be 6 months to 2 year programs generally. My Brother-in-law’s brother went to TSTC- Texas State Technical College – for some kind of electronics training about 20 years ago and makes good money working for an electronics company.

  47. Occam's Beard Says:

    Also, if you make enough money*, it just makes economic sense to pay an expert to do the job, rather that take far more time, effort, and aggravation to do it yourself.

    That’s what my wife – and my inner voice – says too. But I kinda feel like a slacker for not doing things myself. (Cue my wife: “You don’t have to do absolutely everything yourself!”)

  48. jon baker Says:

    Certified welders , with emphasis on “certified”, working as subcontractors with their own welding machines mounted on their own trucks, get $40 an hour at a non- union drilling rig construction site near my town. They were making $50 an hour till recently. Some bad management decision and Chinese competition seems to be cutting them down a bit.

  49. Tatyana Says:

    Foxfier – your comment makes no sense.

    Also: pay attention. I kindly supplied a link for your education – from which it is clear that Interior Designers are not permitted by law to knock down load-bearing walls. That’s the only difference, roughly, between us and interior architects.

    Another note: decorators are not required to have license or to be certified, IN ANY STATE of the UNION. You don’t know what you’re talking about.

  50. Baklava Says:

    Whew !

    I took it as funny.


    I see what you are saying but he was making a joke and it doesn’t apply to you.

    Guess what? I’m part Polish 🙂

  51. Steve Ducharme Says:

    If I may summarize the excellent points made by betsybounds I think it can be summed up as “Paying your dues”.

    If you are a craftsmen and want to attain expert status among your fellow craftsmen you must pay your dues. Believe me. They know it when they see it. If you have a college degree in jewelry… well fine I suppose. But I seriously doubt that it will shoot you to the front of many lines occupied by true experts who have done it a lifetime and NOT gone to college.

    I’ve worked in CADD for (gulp) 26 years and have done a fair amount of hiring. Rarely does a technical school grad ever work out for the best. There are a LOT of false promises made by those schools about placement and potential pay that are simply not true. The best folks I’ve had worked and learned on the job under true experts and took nothing for granted. They listened and learned by doing and were almost always motivated by a genuine interest in the field as opposed to a shortcut through an education.

    Now I am sincerely NOT putting down education. I like that my doctor went to med school and my lawyer went to law school. But what made them (or didn’t make them) excellent was what happened after and how much they were willing to do to refine it.

    Gaining that third standard deviation of “expertise” takes as much effort as the and second to earn a much narrower level of status.

  52. strcpy Says:

    There is not a shortage of skilled labor out there – there is a shortage of skilled labor that is willing to work for the wages offered. Those are two *very* distinct issues.

    I can point out a large number of framers, brick layers, plumbers, heavy machine operators, etc that are either unemployed or working at a menial job.

    In some cases it is because they want too much money, some want what a top end college graduate in a top end field that is still hard (that is VERY few graduates) make – it isn’t going to happen. Some also aren’t as skilled as they think and want salaries that are in line with 20+ year verterans after working 5 years.

    However in my experience those people are fairly rare in the skilled labor market. Most skilled laborers are fairly intelligent people who either didn’t do well with “books learning” or just didn’t like it. The lazy and greedy typically aren’t going to do that (well, outside of a dishonest business owner – no shortage of them at in anyone’s book). They got to be skilled labor by hard work and intelligence.

    In more (indeed most) cases employers can hire an illegal to do the work and will not offer much more than that. They can go make as much or more at Wal-mart, have easier work, shorter hours, better benefits, and over all have a better life. The illegal isn’t paying taxes, gets their health care free, their education free, and many other services that *we* have to pay for (both for ourselves directly and for the illegals through taxes) so they can work for MUCH less.

    What they typically can’t get both of is skill and reliability. Illegals, while often skilled, typically do not settle down for steady work. People who are settled down but willing to work hard long hours for peanuts do so because they can’t do anything else. So you get a “shortage”. Further people are used to paying less than they would need too for products produced by local skilled labor so those that *do* use it can’t stay afloat. So that ends up being a type of feedback loop that is going to get worse over time.

    Now unless something changes in another ten to twenty years we will truly have a shortage as enough of our skilled labor will be out of the work force. Further foreman and such have generally come from that skilled labor pool (they have to be both skilled *and* reliable), the younger workers learning the trade *are not there*. The “young” skilled labor are now in their 40’s for the most part – I have rarely seen anyone younger than me (35 now) for my whole life.

    My parents are land surveyors so I was involved with construction up until my late 20’s (when I finally graduated college and got a nice job as a Computer Scientist at a US National Lab as research staff). Being single and not really liking to live totally alone I live with them now, so I still interact with lots of people in the construction business. As such saying I have not seen much younger than me in the labor force my whole life means something – I’ve been around that labor force my whole life. When those retire I do not know what is going to happen.

    We *do not* have the people being trained to take that over – we have migrant workers that work for little pay. Unless we accept that there is no such thing as “illegal” and totally open the borders they will always be migrant. A one time amnesty and locking things down isn’t going to change (and I doubt that anything will be locked down any more than we are now). Further doing that would have *massive* ramifications as a significantly larger portion of our money would flow to Mexico with little being kept here (already an issue, though one could argue we are still ahead a bit there). So it isn’t going to happen.

    It’s going to collapse at some point and will take a few years (well, probably decades) to readjust. The Tech industry *still* hasn’t recovered from our bubble bursting in around the year 2000, Housing is years away too. This one is going to dwarf those as the knowledge to recover isn’t even going to be there, at least with the others they could start working on how to recover from the start. We are going to have to rebuild our skilled labor from the ground up from immigrant workers (who aren’t stupid and know they are training people to take away their cash cow) *before* we can begin recovery. We aren’t at that point yet, but we are also doing everything we can to make it worse instead of trying to prevent it.

  53. Foxfier Says:

    Tatyana –
    If you can’t figure out the very simple statements I made, I can’t help you. Your response makes it clear you are either failing to understand or did not even bother to try to figure out, beyond realizing that I did not agree with you.

  54. Gray Says:

    I don’t believe this “not enough skilled workers in the Western World” horseshit for an instant.

    Y’know, ‘cuz those other countries have such great architecture, plumbing and infrastructure….

    Yeah, I want a building with Chinese plumbing, Iraqi architecture and a Namibian HVAC system. I want Indian electrical system with Indonesian post-and-beam construction with Korean concrete.

    Are you f’in kidding me? Do you know what a “squat toilet” is and how prevalent they are in, um, The Rest of The World?

    Stupid assed study should be titled:

    “Shortage of Skilled Workers in the West Who Won’t Work for a Bowl of Fish Heads and Lump of Rice a Day.”

    Or perhaps: “You Boomers Didn’t Have Enough Kids to Support You in The Style You’re Accustomed So Now We Gotta Import More Muslims”

    Maybe: “Turkey Had More Kids Than You: Meet Your New Plumbers and Electricians. Enjoy the Squat Toilet”

    It’s crap….

  55. Gray Says:

    Waahhh! There is a shortage of skilled workers!

    I’m a childless old hippie who never listened to my fascist dad about how to fix shit! I don’t want to go on a waiting list to fix my clogged shitter and pay a hundred bucks.

    C’mon! I made a fortune selling plumbing supplies to union-only shops. Gimme a break. It’s not like your f’in kid killing innocents in Afghanistan is going to help with my plumbing. Im an Idea Guy!

    That’s harsh, like my old war-monger dad. We need open borders so those oppressed mexicans can enjoy their freedom to wade through my copious, smelly vegetarian shit for 10 bucks and then vote reliably democrat.

    /sardonical social commentary….

  56. sergey Says:

    Psychologists have established long ago that there are two types of intellect: senso-motoric and logical. Brain research found that they are located in different hemispheres, the first in right hemisphere and the latter in the left hemisphere. The nature of embrionic development is such that one of the brain hemispheres becomes dominant, and other subdominant quite early, so newborn are already specialised to some extent in this respect. This functional asymmetry of brain hemispheres is also correlates wih sexual dimorphism: men are more often have better devopped visual-spatial skills, and women posess better verbal and logical skills. That is why men are generally more apt in mechanic, engineering and math, while women in linguistics and humanities.
    But in men, too, these different sets of skills are usually better represented in different individuals, so it should be reflected in methods of education: some boys should be trained more in mechanics and vocational professions, while college is more appropriate for those with predominance of logical intellect.

  57. Maggie's Farm Says:

    Tuesday morning links…

    Neo: Skilled workers wanted
    VDH: The Sources of American Anger – Barack Obama, the great healer, is proving to be the most divisive president since Richard Nixon.
    Sowell: ObamaCare’s Deadly Consequences
    Headline: Glenn Beck is a poo-poo head
    GOP …

  58. sergey Says:

    One of the annoying features of modern life is that we encounter lots of poorly designed products that break when you try to use them. They were designed not by mechanical engineers but by so called “designers” who never were taught structural stability and other engineering disciplines, but by “industrial art” students. “Designer” became a dirty word, as opposed to “engineer”, who at least have intuition what can withhold stress and what can not.

  59. Terrye Says:

    The powers that be decided everyone needed to go to college and the few who did not have had to have a license and a permit. People like my father who could do all sorts of things from building to wiring to plumbing no longer exists.

  60. Corsair Says:

    Ny father was a surgeon. This led him to the entirely false belief that because he could open up people and fix them, he could also open up fridges, toasters, radio sets etc and fix them too. This was manifestly not the case. I remember on one occasion my little sister running into the kitchen yelling ‘Mummy! Mummy! Come quick! Daddy’s got a screwdriver!’.

  61. Tatyana Says:

    No, Foxfier, don’t flatter yourself. I said you don’t make sense, not that I couldn’t understand you.

    Once again: you don’t know what you’re talking about.

    You asserted that some states (which ones? I bet you will evade this question, too) forbid DECORATING without state license.
    This is a lie.

  62. SteveH Says:

    “”America has moved from a society that values know-how to a society that values credentials.””

    And all the “credentialed” get incorporated into fields and industries as warm bodied bureaucrats which makes the one guy digging and five guys leaning on a shovel look like a model of efficiency.

    The whole “going green” scam is about incorporating millions of these newly “credentialed” into the energy business so we’ll all pay three times as much for energy while praising ourselves for creating jobs and being efficient.

  63. Artfldgr Says:

    I have huge skills set, and knowledge set.
    Besides high tech, I have arts skills, mechanical skills, engineering, electronics, etc…

    Our family was poor but always seemed to do better and that’s because we created the stuff that others thought was valuable. so the grand master oils on the walls are dads work, in various styles so you think its many different artists (like my work and now my sons).

    literally hundreds of skills in which any one of them could be a job, and together allow one to live quite comfortably on the detritus of society.

  64. david foster Says:

    Sergey…”men are more often have better devopped visual-spatial skills, and women posess better verbal and logical skills. That is why men are generally more apt in mechanic, engineering and math, while women in linguistics and humanities”

    But much of mathematics has nothing to do with spatial visualization and a great deal to do with logic. Ditto for most computer programming.

  65. Wolla Dalbo Says:

    My maternal grandfather was a jack of all trades, and he had all the skills to build a house from the foundation to the roof, and he built one such house (presumably with helpers) for a relative—I was told he dug the foundation, put in the footers and the framing, laid the floors and did the tile work, did the electrical work, gas lines, plumbing and heating, did the wall papering, plastering and painting, and roofed it, and as I grew up I watched him use almost all of these skills in doing repairs on the houses we lived in He was a very skilled, but a perfectionist and slow and methodical at his work, and he was a bad businessman, and a contracting business he set up in his thirties failed.

    This seems to be a pattern. Workman who may be skilled (although I find it increasingly difficult to sort through all the supposedly skilled workmen—our local paper if full of ads from electricians, plumbers, tile workers, painters, basement finishers, deck repairers and other assorted contractors–to find those who are well trained and have skill and truly know what they are doing, and to weed out the incompetent and the crooked, and/or the crooked incompetents, who seem to be in the majority) but who are bad businessmen, and don’t work consistently on your job, who miss appointments and never call, and who sometimes just wander off in the middle of the job and never return. It seems that the mindset that makes these tradesmen want to be electricians and painters and carpenters doesn’t often go together with the mindset of a businessman.

    Complaints about the work ethic of tradesmen were old when Egypt was young, but I suspect that the general societal disintegration and fragmentation that the Left and Postmodernism have so very successfully induced in our traditional society and prosecuted against its work ethic, values, and character building has something to do with this situation as well.

  66. waltj Says:

    While I don’t work with my hands for a living myself (unless you count typing on a keyboard), one grandfather was a cabinetmaker and the other a machinist, so I learned respect for the skilled trades from an early age. They managed to make ends meet plying their trades during the Great Depression, so that says something about the income potential. I can do some basic carpentry and like to tinker with (older) cars, but when it comes to complex repairs, especially those jobs that need to meet building codes, I try to find people who know what they’re doing. Unfortunately, they do seem to be getting harder to find every day.

    When I still lived in the States, one of my neighbors was a licensed “clean metal” welder. That is, the welding he did was mostly of virgin steel for commercial buildings, and the license was his guarantee that he knew how to do the job to code. But he was being driven out of the trade by illegal immigration, in a most insidious way. He would bid on a job, and to do so, he had to provide his welding license number. His bids never seemed to win, though. He found out why: when he checked an on-site building permit, he found that his license number had been entered as site welder (who happened to be a “Mexican”). Illegal? You bet, but if my neighbor raised a stink, he’d get a reputation with the GCs and be certain of continued unemployment. Hire an attorney? Sure, if he could find one that would take the case and wouldn’t require an up-front retainer.

  67. T Says:

    I think it’s fascinating that this post has generated so many comments over such a short period of time. Neo, methinks you’ve touched a nerve.

    If I may attempt to cast a wider net:

    Many of the comments above address the improtance of the trades and the knowledge and wisdom of the tradesmen. It seems to me that the real key is in one’s ability to transfer critical thinking skills from one field to another. Plumbers, carpenters, Harvard lawyers and surgeons have critical thinking and problem solving skills, but which of them can use those skills outside of their chosen discipline? Not all can.

    I suspect that many of the problems the nation has today come from the fact that the educated elite can’t transfer the critical thinking skills taught at Harvard law to solve the problems of real-life. That is what governing is all about and may indicate why former governors often do better as president than former legislators

  68. SteveH Says:

    Technology is probably as big a culprit as any in making the well rounded craftsman a scarcity. You visit an Andersen window plant for example and nobody there can design and build a window. Some know design, some know glass manufacture, some know cnc programming, some know wood inventories….Really its a trade off of cost efficiency for narrowly skilled people.

  69. T Says:


    For Andersen I’d believe it. I have nothing but bad experiences with their products.

  70. Artfldgr Says:

    Technology is probably as big a culprit as any in making the well rounded craftsman a scarcity.

    nah… lack of family thanks to feminism’s goals being met. after all, if boys learn competency from family, more than school, destroying family destroys mens competency.. (and womens too as a majority of those who have accomplished much in the world tend to credit their fathers, not their mothers).

    where would richard feynman have ended up if his father didnt explain physics to him as a child with a red wagon?

    technology is a tool, and no tool is responsible for the ignorance of tool users, only the tool users choices can do that

  71. Artfldgr Says:

    Where would we all be today if obama, hitler, stalin, mao, and all the others had a more normal childhood? and where would we be if those who had normal childhoods didnt listen to someone else twist that into something to hate?

  72. Scottie Says:

    Funny incident happened yesterday in our weekly meeting that this article reminded me of.

    A highly educated engineer thought he had slipped up and used a permanent marker on our dry erase board.

    He was fiddling with the marker, trying to find something on it that said “dry erase”, with a couple of other engineers checking out similar markers and complaining about the small print on the markers that made it hard to read as the consternation grew.

    I laughed, looked at my boss who was sitting next to me – and then this humble former farm boy suggested the engineer simply see if he could erase anything he had just written.

    Yep, it was a dry erase marker.

    Got quite the laugh….

  73. Scottie Says:

    Oh, and for what it’s worth, even though I work in engineering and spend a LOT of my time in front of a computer, the wife takes great pleasure in knowing I can fix things around the house….. 😀

  74. T Says:


    As I wrote, the ability to transfer critical thinking skills . . . .

  75. SteveH Says:

    “”technology is a tool, and no tool is responsible for the ignorance of tool users, only the tool users choices can do that””

    I’m saying the tool users generally don’t have a choice with modern technology. A guy making twenty bucks an hour doing the only thing he knows ( putting glass in a sash on an assembly line) is job locked and destined to be narrowly skilled.

    I’m sorta tickled at thinking i’ve finally found a subject i’m more versed in than you. 🙂

  76. Scottie Says:

    LOL…ok, I also keep thinking about the other topic regarding strippers and lap dances and…ah…skilled workers…..


  77. Steve Ducharme Says:

    There seems to some confusion in the comments about the difference between a craftsmen and a journeymen. Someone mentioned critical thinking as a foundation to these skill sets but i think that is an oversimplification. Someone else mentioned a grandfather building a home with his hands for a relative and then having failed as a general contractor because he was a perfectionist.

    I would submit that while he was too much of a craftsmen and not enough of a journeymen. They both share very similar skill sets, critical thinking skills and abilities but the emotional involvement is very different.

    I’ve seen some fantastic work done by good friends of mine in the trades who had almost no emotional investment in the work beyond a job well done and a satisfied customer. They do the job, collect the check and move on to the next one. They aren’t heartless about it but they aren’t sentimental either.

    A craftsmen is a creator and will see disaster in the most infinitesimal of flaws. It’s a gift AND a curse.

  78. Wolla Dalbo Says:

    Ah, yes, specialization.

    Or, as a baker behind the counter at the huge bakery department at my local Wegmans–when I asked him if the bakery had any used “food grade buckets”* that I could have–said, “I don’t know, I just do muffins and doughnuts.”

    * Why “food grade buckets,” you might ask?

    Well, to quote Sarah Connor from the film “Terminator,” who, when she was told a “storm was on the horizon and coming in,” looked to the horizon, paused, and said “I know,” I, too, think “a storm is coming,” and that storing a couple of months of food in my basement might be a prudent thing to do right about now. when prices are still low and food is abundant.

    If the economic, and societal, and political storm–a la, say, Argentina* or Venezuela–that I believe has a good chance of coming in doesn’t come, no real harm is done, but, if as I anticipate, it comes, such food will save me an enormous amount of hardship and danger and may, in fact, save our lives.

    ** There are many good books on surviving in hard times, including those on hard core “survivalism.” If you are interested, one very informative and useful book, containing real life, practical tips on how to survive such an urban economic and social collapse in an urban setting–hyperinflation, job loss, runs on banks, scarcity of food and municipal services, and rampant crime and social unrest/anarchy–and the practical, if harsh, lessons he learned living and managing to survive in Buenos Aires, Argentina during the economic and social collapse in 2001, is the self-published book by Fernando Ferfal Aguirre titled, “The Survival Manual: Surviving the Economic Collapse,” which is available on

  79. SteveH Says:

    Lol Scottie. Speaking of job locked. I’d say a stripper making six figures and types twenty wpm probably qualifies. 🙂

  80. SteveH Says:

    “”There seems to some confusion in the comments about the difference between a craftsmen and a journeymen.””
    Steve Ducharme

    Yes. The word journeyman was invented by union types as a credential proving their worth when reality failed to do so.

  81. JKB Says:

    I recommend Mind and Hand by Charles Hamm. (It’s available from the Internet Archive, just google it) A treatise from the end of the 19th century promoting the addition of manual training in education. Not to create craftsmen but to give students a grounding in the real world. As related, all manner of the college educated, lawyers, politicians, even engineers, can delude themselves with their ideas since they are never tested in the real world or if they are, the fault is in support, opposition, etc. Never in the idea itself. (Sound familiar?). But the poor ideas of the craftsman is reveal quite readily by the ugliness of what those ideas create in physical form.

    Mr. Hamm does a survey of manual labor throughout history and assigns the disdain some have for it to the fact that the skilled craftsmen historically were slaves or non-citizens in the case of Rome, where destitute Romans would enslave themselves before they’d pick up a tool.

    Chapter two. The Majesty of Tools, is well worth the read on its own. I extracted this passage which I review ever so often for inspiration.

    In the light of this analysis Carlyle’s rhapsody on tools becomes a prosaic fact, and his conclusion—that man without tools is nothing, with tools all—points the way to the discovery of the philosopher’s stone in education. For if man without tools is nothing, to be unable to use tools is to be destitute of power; and if with tools he is all, to be able to use tools is to be all-powerful. And this power in the concrete, the power to do some useful thing for man—this is the last analysis of educational truth.

  82. rickl Says:


    Check this out: Pleasant Hill Grain

    I already bought one, along with a hand grain mill. Now that I have all those buckets of grain, I’m thinking about learning to bake my own bread.

  83. Sergey Says:

    David Foster: No, mathematics actually needs both kind of skils, and there are two different styles of doing mathematics: geometric and algebraic. Many problems can be formulated both ways, and the results can be represented both ways, too. But the main high school tool to teach logic is Euclidean geometry, and without good visual imagination it is just incomprehensible. Here most of schoolchildren fail and drop out of science classes. My way of study mathenatics is purely geometric, but I have master degree in linguistics too. And all furniture, plumbering and electric wiring in my house was done by my own hands, just as all electric appliances repair. It is hard to find and costly to use good professional craftsmen in Russia, so I saved a lot of money doing everything myself.

  84. Foxfier Says:

    some “home ec” classes have sort of done this, becoming a “how to deal with living on your own” classes– balance a check book, change a house fuse, change a light bulb (I wish I were joking….), do laundry, read a recipe. I know the good teachers I’ve had worked in things like “changing a tire” to the driver’s ed class, or basic tool use in normal life in the art class.

  85. Hong Says:

    I see two divergent streams of thought on the comments here. On one side are those who believe the growing intellectual carelessness of the elites are to blame for the shortage of skilled labor. The other seems to feel the pool is filled with skilled labor but are simply too expensive or underbilled by illegals performing shoddier/lower cost work.

    I’m torn as to which is true or which is worse for the country: greedy unions or insidious illegals. Here in New York, construction is down and many legitimate tradesman can’t find steady work. Are the unions to be blamed or the illegals? I can’t help but feel that they both need to be deported.

    Maybe we should just learn how to build our own houses and cut out the middle man. *sigh

  86. ALP Says:

    Great discussion, which reminds me of the reality series “The Colony”. The show places people in a fabricated post-disaster urban setting, where a number of volunteers are placed in a deserted area after being in solitary confinement for 72 hours. They are told to survive and rebuild with whatever they can find.

    After watching two episodes of Season 1 (Season 2 started in July) I came to the realization that your average American white collar information/office worker IS SO SCREWED! Most of the skills we have are USELESS when it comes to survival. The Tradesmen Shall Inherit the Earth In Tandem with Engineers! The only really useful members of the team are the “handymen”, fabricators, machinists, engineers, mechanics, ect…

    The show is also VERY interesting in terms of how some cling to political correctness, and some very intriguing gender issues arise.

    For my part – I like to design and spin yarn. If the apocalypse hits, please direct me to the nearest flock of sheep. I’d be glad to spin up some yarn so we can all knit/crochet some hats and scarves. Oh, and I can garden as well – I guess my expertise with seed starting will come in handy.

  87. Scottie Says:

    # SteveH Says:
    August 31st, 2010 at 12:10 pm

    Lol Scottie. Speaking of job locked. I’d say a stripper making six figures and types twenty wpm probably qualifies. 🙂
    Rofl…I think I’ve run into a few contracting company secretaries who fit that description.

  88. JKB Says:

    Actually, that is exactly not what manual training is all about. Those course have value but what is needed for all students is exposure to taking an idea from mind to paper to physical form. Doing this they use their math, language, science, etc., but also learn the limitations imposed by reality. I would propose that what is needed is classes that do actual hands on work with paper and pencil drafting and design, hand tools, and defined precise end products. Now I realize that many would cry for the drafting to be CADD (missing the point about computer aided), the tools be power and the end product be subjective. But the goal is not to teach one to one marketable skills. The goal rather is to teach problem solving, spatial visualization, critical thinking, basic tool skills, etc. All things that will help a student whether the become a craftsman or a lawyer.

    There are only seven basic tools – axe, saw, plane, hammer, chisel, file, and square. Power tools are refined versions of these tools driven by a motor. Having skills with these tools, you can do a lot to raise yourself, as well as your fellow man, out of the mud and into a shelter or produce more complex tools that ease the daily burden.

  89. Artfldgr Says:

    I never bothered to watch “the colony”, any society willing to trade medicine to get a woman back (which should never have been lost in the first place), is dead before they start…

    i find such a show very funny, in that any group of competent people would eradicate the other group completely in short order…

    i see very little in any way that such groups would survive long in a world of bikers, gang members, etc. [despite the fact their voting desires create such a hobsonian world where safety is only a luxury for the kakistocracy]

  90. Oldflyer Says:

    Among my childhood heroes were a Grandfather and Uncle who could visualize and create almost any project. They were “humble” men by some standards, but stood tall in the eyes of their neighbors, and the children who watched how they lived and worked.

    I still have great respect for men of that type.

    I know that a successful society needs many skill sets, including philosophers, educators and money-changers. Even entertainers. But, it is interesting how different segments of society value different contributions. I wonder is the person who creates or maintains the accouterments of modern life, by virtue of his skill and his sweat is not undervalued. What lessons does this man who does an honest job for fair pay teach? What philosophy does he embody?

    We discovered a self-styled handy man in our area a number of year ago. In truth, he was much more. He did many projects for us that were beyond my skill level, or more time consuming/labor intensive than I could commit. He had two characteristics that were most admirable. He could figure out a solution to nearly any problem; and he always did an honest job for his pay. He became a friend. Now, he is gone. But, his son follows in his footsteps by doing projects large and small– always with care and skill. I wonder who will follow the son.

  91. ALP Says:


    That’s what I was getting at when I said the show puts political correctness (and Oprah-ish, new agey thinking) in a bit of a conundrum. Its amazing to see a highly educated person, in their “confessionals” to the camera, say things like: “I thought everybody in the world was nice and polite – I guess not.” YA THINK? This whole “new agey” way of being – “think positive thoughts and positive things will happen” really takes a hit. And when a man on the show dares to exert any protective, “man-type” behavior – you know, the type of behavior necessary in situations of potential danger – behavior that may save a life though it may come off as aggressive (even merely raising one’s voice)…

    The fallout from the women on the show is nothing short of breathtaking. Its as if they expect everyone to act as if they were in a nice, clean, white collar environment with an HR professional down the hall to complain to if somebody raises their voice – despite the fact their situation is nothing like it. Amazing. We have become so feminized as a culture, that any hint of male aggression, no matter how justified, is a reason to go crying to somebody.

  92. SteveH Says:

    “”I would propose that what is needed is classes that do actual hands on work with paper and pencil drafting and design””

    I find myself missing the days when you could look at a set of drawings and tell who the architect was just by the style. You didn’t have to see his name or the names of people in his ofice who may have lent a hand. It was personal and spoke volumes about the idiosyncracies of the man and his artistic approach to his work.

    Now all you see are these impersonal computer aided drawings that lack this soul and character. The result being as stark as the taste difference of a cake your grandmother baked from scratch and one you buy in a box.

  93. Scottie Says:


    As someone on the other side of the coin who actually generates those kinds of drawings, I can assure you that there is still a difference depending on who is doing the drawing.

    I look at some drawing sets and I scratch my head trying to figure out their design intent, and then I see other drawings that are clear and concise and still follow the general drafting guidelines that used to be normal practice in the industry.

    IMO, part of where things went wrong was when CADD was introduced into the classroom. You had people who’d never learned the basics suddenly tossed onto a computer instead of spending time on a drafting board.

    It became more of a computer class than a drafting class as people learned how to manipulate the software.

    Unfortunately, somewhere in the shuffle the idea they were supposed to be learning the actual drafting skill set was lost.

    Compound that with the fact that when mechanical pencil and vellum (or ink and mylar) were the norm, you had people doing the work who actually enjoyed drawing and could think in three dimensions.

    They could envision something, spin it around in their head, and draw any view you wanted.

    As they did their work, they cared about how the finished drawing actually looked as well as making sure it was correct.

    Nowadays, that seems to be more and more of a lost art. No need to think in three dimensions anymore, just let the computer generate a 3D version!

    Unfortunately, the thought processes that went into the work that shows up on the drawings is not taking place anymore – everyone is relying upon the computer program to catch errors, and that is a pi$$ poor way of conducting any kind of quality control….

  94. Artfldgr Says:

    sorry about that… thanks for the logner point.

    i made similar points when i posted articles showing that most are unfit for service. which means in a crisis, most either cant serve, or as in Russia, when they serve they will not last long…

    i will say that your tolerance for crap is higher than mine, i couldn’t even turn the show on from what i saw in the commercials.

    [especially since you and i, and a few others are not allowed to join and win the competition]

  95. Artfldgr Says:

    Amazing. We have become so feminized as a culture, that any hint of male aggression, no matter how justified, is a reason to go crying to somebody.

    well yes.
    if you want to take over someone else, give them feminism, ergo, the soviets giving us feminism.

    it makes the state indefensible inside or out…
    it ALWAYS falls
    no exceptions in history

    even now, you can directly list out the bad parts we have, and you can line up where it came from, and most of the time its the sista’s… as they are the group that is in every camp.

    i wanted to put up a quote, but i cant find it. sigh
    its a real good one..

    it points out that when women enter politics, they dont do anything for anyone but themselves… (multiply that for their leaders).

    that is, even Hammurabi wrote legal code for women

    but if you look at what they have done, it is not just or fair, its completely one sided.

    let me know one example otherwise…
    [the quote embodying this is very old and based on an analysis of Rome]

    no matriarchy has ever survived conflict
    ours wont either as the men wont fight for them

    fight to win for what? more asymmetric unconstitutional laws and marginalization? whee…

    the show is a good microcosm of the near future

    the women will tell the men how to do it, the men will lose, the women will become the slaves of the new men.

    the only question is will the new owners of the women be Islamic, or communist…

    either way, they are not going to ever see what they had ever again.

    dont it always seem to go
    that you dont know what you got till its gone… 🙂

  96. Artfldgr Says:

    by the way, the genetic reflex to cry to another mate to solve the problem is why totalitarians focus on women and children to convert a state.

    after all the success in chaning the state to what they said they were doing, you would think the women woud be cheering!!!

    but i guess its exactly what they asked for
    but it isnt what they wanted

    now the bill is coming due soon…
    and the stuff they removed for female sensibilities, is what provided them the living arrangement to even have female sensibilities and publicly voice them.

    as far as other women who do not want that. they are irrelevant as they have made themselves irrelevant…

    soon, women will be asigned jobs and live in barracks as they do in china. they will have the room of their own, but no family and no economy, no freedom.

    they wanted a totalitarian state…
    now we almost have it.

  97. david foster Says:

    t…”many of the problems the nation has today come from the fact that the educated elite can’t transfer the critical thinking skills taught at Harvard law to solve the problems of real-life”….doubtless true, but I’d go further. There are many people with college educations and advanced degrees (not sure this applies to Harvard Law graduates but it certainly applies to many Masters and PhD holders) who are simply unable to perform the kind of cause-and-effect thinking required of a mechanic trying to diagnose a difficult problem.

  98. T Says:

    David foster,

    I agree, that’s why not all classically educated people are “smart,” and conversely, being a plumber or carpenter does not indicate that one is “stupid’.”

    I’ve know many insightful tradespeople, many insightful academicians, and also many people in both of those groups who couldn’t “think their way out of a paper bag!”

  99. Steve Ducharme Says:

    Steve H. While I agree with your premise of missing the “good old days” when architects had their own styles that you could see in their drawings, keep in mind that in many cases that style was created by a draftsmen (or a group of them) and not the engineer/architect I actually learned my trade on a board with pencil and ink starting in junior high. CADD came along early in my career and believe me when I say than none of us old schoolers who still do it for a living really miss it at all.

    Another thought. Most of us on the inside can still pick out the designers / drafters by looking at the files. There are still many many subtleties to the trade.

  100. Artfldgr Says:

    and i would point out that before the changing of the rulers to make things equal, those people would not have been allowed to attend.

    but just as no woman has every completed the army obstical course, the rules and measures were changed since they kept them out.

    that is, rather than accept reality, they changed the rulers so that reality SEEMED to change and they were equal.

    cause and effect thinking with women is broken in a lot of them, as they do not have to suffer cause and effect as much.

    how many men have seen women play games to get mulligans in competitions rather than accept the conditions?

    when committing crimes with a male, they never serve as much time as the male, as the male is always the responsible one.

    they have 23 forms of birth control, only one of them is sterilizing… but they are not responsible for their bodies, outcomes, or anything… and when cause and effect happen, the state, law, and others mitigate it.

    the list goes on and on…

    such people do NOT learn cause and effect and stand equal with those that do. such go rinning off to a power base to convince it to act to change cause and effect. which is what they do.

    the end result is eventual, and never in question

  101. Artfldgr Says:

    neo, your mail is full or something is not copacetic…

  102. SteveH Says:

    “”Unfortunately, somewhere in the shuffle the idea they were supposed to be learning the actual drafting skill set was lost.””

    Exactly. I’ll take a drawing on a napkin from any person well versed in the subject at hand over a bonified autocad specialist who doesn’t know his beautiul 3D rendering is worthless without the required background knowledge.

  103. Steve Ducharme Says:

    To Steve H


  104. Artfldgr Says:

    Steve H…
    you will?
    i have products and designs that would blow you away…

    and there is such beauty in simplicity… 🙂

  105. ALP Says:

    Artfldgr Says – August 31st, 2010 at 4:06 pm

    “i will say that your tolerance for crap is higher than mine, i couldn’t even turn the show on from what i saw in the commercials.”


    LOL! There is a definite “train wreck” quality to the show, I’ll grant you that. Plus, after more than a year of unemployment – my standards regarding TV have fallen a bit.

    I like to think that had I seen such a show when I was in high school, I would have given the sciences and/or other technical subjects more of a chance, as it really makes the point that is some of the most valuable knowledge we can possess.

  106. Papa Dan Says:

    Wow! Lots of great comments-I went to school in southern CT some 35 years ago where it was expected that you would go on to college, and most did. But even there shop was mandatory. The screw-ups were shifted to trade school the next town over which sort of spelled out how the trades were viewed. I didn’t want to go to college, and fought with my folks for a long while over that. I went into the trades (Carpentry) and stayed with them for many years . . .

    Why did I leave?

    Three years as a Frame Carpenter, then the economy went south . . .

    From the last years of Carter to the first two years of Reagan-a couple of years in a Machine shop, followed by a few years living and working on farms including a season picking Oranges in the Indian River region of Florida (an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything) then the economy came back . . .

    Several years as a Boat Carpenter, then the economy went south . . .

    And then on to small Cabinet shops where I gradually got better and better, including several years in my own restoration business, while going to night school to get a tech degree in electronics

    I finally left to get a long term steady job in a tech department, which lasted until two years ago.

    The Trades have taken a beating for years from all sides-from over-paid, corrupt Unions, to illegals underbidding work to corrupt politicians who pretend to look out for the little guy by trying to sock it to the “Rich”

    Nobody ever works for a poor man.

    Mastery and excellence take time-if a kid works a year at his trade, and the economy falls, so will his job, along with the training-he may be sharp enough to try to start on his own (adequate Frame Carpentry can be learned in two years time) but he will not have learned how to run and keep a professional business.

  107. Tatyana Says:

    S. Ducharme at 4:46 and Steve H (re: ink-n-pen drafting): absolutely!

    You can pick up on background knowledge even in the way the drafter draws an arc, or – especially – the way he/she dimensions. Someone who knows how to use compasses and understands how the carpenter is going to measure with his tools is always making himself understood by the trade people, on the drawing. Purty 3d pictures it’s not.

    In my former life I was an industrial engineer; used to draw with Rapidograph set – remember them? that makes a difference when talking to consultants and their eyebrows go up at a chance remark: they expected “a decorator” at the meeting!

  108. david foster Says:

    Art…”before the changing of the rulers to make things equal, those people would not have been allowed to attend”….actually, the people I’m talking about mostly have pretty high IQs and SAT scores. They *could have* learned cause & effect thinking had they spent time doing the right kind of things–working as a mechanic, building stuff with Erector sets or electronics kits, taking a few serious science classes. But instead, they took courses where what is required to succeed is mainly the playback of the expected attitudes and platitudes.

  109. JKB Says:

    It’s not that CADD, power tools, etc. are bad. It is that they are efficiencies better understood and operated by someone with the proper underlying skills. Thought processes and visualizations best achieved by pen and ink drafting and hand tool skills. It doesn’t require becoming a master at the hand skills but an familiarization goes a long way to making using CADD and power tools simply enhancements to productivity instead of straight jackets that can’t be slipped out of when something new or creative is needed.

    How many have come across those who when disrupted from their sequence in some computerized or semi-automated process lock up with no clue how to actually solve a new problem or incorporate an exception? Revealing they know nothing of the underlying skills the automated process makes accessible to trained monkeys.

  110. Scottie Says:

    The move the past decade has been to put more and more emphasis on CAD – in my case, I use AutoCad (started out with mechanical pencil and vellum and ink on mylar).

    Now, if you can think in your own mind that as you place equipment that you still need clearances around it for maintenance purposes, and that 50 Hp pump you just located in a mechanical room will fit just PERFECTLY in that corner – except for the fact you need room to be able to pull the motor and probably the impellers years down the road, and if you can account for all of these and other variables, then you can successfully lay out a mechanical room.

    Unfortunately, the computer shows the damn equipment will fit so today’s typical CAD operator assumes all is well and moves on.

    It’s only when you get the call during construction admin or a year later when maintenance has a problem accessing something that you realize just how badly things went off the rails – and by that time it’s usually too late for any simple fix.

  111. SteveH Says:

    I’m sort of pondering if trade unions going of the deep end politically may have something to do with the advent of the computer age and its impact on funneling everyone into narrowly skilled positions. It has to be a frightening thing to feel like such a replacable little cog in such a giant wheel.

    But in the end you can say they chose to risk this happening by accepting the handsome salaries and benefits that locked them in such a box.

    I know from personal experience, one of the hardest things to do is leave a well paying job because you know in your gut it’s not a good match for where you want to end up.

  112. Artfldgr Says:

    Unions went off the deep end when communism took them over

  113. Steve Ducharme Says:

    Hey Scottie.

    Amen! Sounds like we do the same type of work and share the same concerns. It you’re ever in Florida and looking for work…

  114. Steve Ducharme Says:

    Once upon a time before CADD, engineers were forced to thoroughly think things through before committing them to paper because doing that was a labor intensive process. A true craft. There was a LOT more getting it right the first time” as redrafts were expensive and ate up you labor budget.

    In CADD with high speed plotting the engineers will just “think out loud” so to speak in real time over and over again till they eventually (hopefully?) corral the best solution. The ideal is a combination of both obviously but human nature being what it is…

  115. Scottie Says:

    Steve Ducharme,

    Quite possibly we do very similar work. I’m involved in the engineering side of things for commercial construction.

    You do make a good point, btw, in the “get it right the first time” approach that used to be the norm.

    In basic drafting (decades ago) I remember being taught how to actually lay out a drawing on paper – yes there is a methodology to it.

    The reason was they knew if the drawing *grew* too much in any direction you’d be stuck having to redraw it so it was centered correctly.

    Wayyy to expensive and time consuming – better to get it right the first time.

    Now, the deadline seems to be the overriding concern with too many – especially architects who’ve overpromised, and they figure they can just *fix it* after the fact.

    Toss in a healthy dose of apathy regarding how the drawing looks and you have a nice recipe for change orders and RFI’s.

    The project manager who today is screeching about deadlines will be the same project manager next week screeching about CO’s.

    I figure if they’re going to screech anyway, might as well do it right the first time.

  116. Tatyana Says:


    have you been hiding in my office somewhere? It’s as if you know heard today’s “deadline” talk (or, rather, “slave-whipping” deadline talk…)
    4 hrs in the meetings with Client and Vendors – then back to my desk and in an hour I have PM coming over asking “are the changes made already after today’s meeting? We have a deadline to deliver 75%!”

  117. Scottie Says:


    LOL…if both of us were in the same company I think it may create some sort of critical mass effect!

    But yeah, I’ve been treated to that particular joke.

    I try to laugh at them as sometimes crying just doesn’t do any good…lol.

    It really gets funny when someone promises something by a particular deadline and THEN comes and lets me know the promise they made to the client.

    I just laugh as I’ve got 4 other project teams that I’m working with that would heartily disagree regarding where priorities are….I usually just let them go fight it out and stick to the original agreed upon project schedule.

  118. OmegaPaladin Says:

    The Nostalgia here is thick enough to cut with a knife. Sure, it is good to know how to fix things around the house or at work, but I don’t think a return to manual drafting or classes with primitive tools are going to help much there.

    I also don’t think every person needs to be omni-competent. As a civilization can organize people into groups, people can specialize in a given area and trade their services. Does the fact that accounting or higher ed or psychology lose importance if the civilization is falling apart mean that they are not valid fields of study? No. As long as you have skills necessary to survive disasters, you should be able to specialize in any area where there is demand.

  119. Scottie Says:


    I wasn’t by any means advocating a return to manual drafting.

    Instead, I was pointing out that when some of us were taught drafting on a board years ago, we also at that time had to learn how to think ahead as well as how to visualize the project in our mind.

    Changes were a lot more difficult than they are now, so there was a premium in getting it right the first time.

    IMO, this critical thinking skill is important, but it’s lost when people skip that step and go straight to the computer – and then rely on computer programs to think for them and catch their errors.

    I can not tell you the number of people I’ve met over the years that simply can’t visualize something in their mind – and yet they have jobs that require that very skill when you are having to design something that will occupy three dimensions but you only have two dimensions with which to portray the information.

    I was discussing one of our projects with an engineer this very morning.

    We’ve been telling the architect since the beginning of the project that there is simply not enough room in the mechanical room for everything that has to be squeezed in – and yet the architect remains in denial.

    He simply cannot visualize just how much he is demanding we cram into that one space.

    We plan to charge the heck out of him if it comes back for redesign…..

About Me

Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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