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Tom Purcell: The Sky’s the Limit for Skilled Trades These Days

The demand for skilled laborers — electricians, plumbers, HVAC technicians and others — continues to soar, and that’s a good thing for America.

According to the Society for Human Resource Management, skilled-trades jobs have increased by more than 1 million since 2012 — “the most of any profession.”

The pay is better than most people are aware. Skilled tradesmen enjoy average earnings of almost $22 an hour. Seasoned tradesmen can earn six-figure incomes.

With the glut of unemployed college graduates — many of whom must repay thousands of dollars in college loans — more young people are considering careers in the trades.

I think it’s great.

Our country was built by people who worked with their hands.

Ben Franklin was the youngest son and 15th child born to a working-class father. He only attended school for two years. As a teen, he became a printer’s apprentice, a messy blue-collar job.

His trade helped him master communication, business management, politics and human nature. He would go on to publish influential newspapers and books. He franchised his printing business in other cities and became wealthy enough at the young age of 42 to dedicate the rest of his life to his country and to inventing many innovations that we still use today (the potbelly Franklin stove comes to mind).

George Washington, a farmer, toiled in his gardens to cross-breed the perfect plant. He was forever trying new ways to cultivate and harvest his crops. His creativity and inventiveness are on display at his beloved Mount Vernon estate, which I visited many times when I lived in Alexandria, Va.

To be sure, many of the Founders of our country were farmers. They were humbled daily by the unforgiving realities of nature. Not one of them was afraid to get his hands dirty.

Hands-on labor made them sensible and innovative. And their good sense and innovation are evident in the simplicity and practicality of the Constitution.

We need a resurgence of “blue-collar” common sense.

Blue-collar workers cannot “BS” their way through their work. An electrician mixes up the hot wire and ground wire only once. A carpenter is kept honest by his level — he measures twice, cuts once. A plumber’s skill is evident when the water valve is opened and the pipes don’t leak.

Blue-collar workers have no choice but to develop horse sense — to develop efficient ways to solve real problems.

There was a time in America when many white-collar jobs were also infused with horse sense. An employee started as a bank teller right out of high school. He’d work his way up, through performance and sound judgment, to the highest levels of the organization.

The journalism profession worked the same way. A young person would start in the mailroom and, through grit and hard work, would gradually acquire the skills needed to gather and report the facts in an objective manner. Reporters who came up the ranks this way were grounded in reality.

So I hope more millennials forsake the white-collar world to become skilled laborers.

I hope we stop glamorizing careers on Wall Street and in the legal profession and many other paper-pushing businesses.

I hope more people use their hands to produce something of value every day — and use their practical, decision-making abilities to help resolve other challenges we face.

Hey, unemployed, college-indebted young people, are you paying attention?

We have a shortage of skilled tradesmen in our country. With the economy poised to expand, the sky will be the limit for skilled trades.

Don’t be ashamed to get your hands a little dirty.

Tom Purcell, author of Misadventures of a 1970s Childhood and Wicked Is the Whiskey: A Sean McClanahan Mystery, is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review humor columnist; syndicated by Cagle Cartoons. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter: @PurcellTom. Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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