When we see a child playing nicely on the floor, we encourage them to build something, anything they want, with the blocks that we have laid before them. From that pile and nothing more than the imagination of that child, the adults in the room sit and watch a tower being built. This sparks excitement for all viewers as the structure grows taller; more words of encouragement are uttered to keep the children building and constructing. Then, as if by magic, a three-foot-tall tower, complete with a sitting room for a stuffed animal is standing before our eyes. The child beams with pride and so do the adults in the room. “Can I knock it over now?” the child eagerly asks, and of course, that is part of the fun. We watch as the tower that was so painstakingly designed and erected crumbles to the floor with the teddy bear in tow.
The second the last block hits the floor so too does that child’s dream of becoming a carpenter. The same adult that, seconds ago, encouraged his or her child to build and create something amazing now tells the child that college is the only true path, that a job in the trades is not a wise choice. It is as if having a career in the trades is a direction to take only if a person can’t cut it in an office setting. Adults have been telling children and teenagers for years, ‘if you can’t get in to a good college, then maybe you should consider getting a job in the trades’. The negative stigma that has been associated with the trades, especially since the turn of the century, has created a skilled labor gap that we desperately need to work to reverse.
In Vermont, the average age of a contractor is mid-fifties. Over the next decade we will see a rash of knowledgeable, skilled, hardworking, trades-people retiring without young people to replace them. A career in the trades is full of endless opportunities for growth- both personally and professionally. It is possible to take vacations, raise a family, and own a home with a career in the trades. Working in the field allows individuals the opportunity to challenge themselves physically and mentally. Some of the most knowledgeable people with whom I have had the privilege of associating, had careers as carpenters, plumbers, and electricians to name just a few. With the lack of skilled labor, the everyday customer suffers with wait times that continue to grow by the day.
So, go ahead, throw away all of the building blocks children inherently love. Don’t dangle that carrot out in front of them if you believe that building is not a legitimate career choice for your child. Or instead, I challenge you to think about all this world has to offer us. Ask yourself, what do you truly know about the construction industry? I encourage open mindedness and an honest discussion about what constitutes a successful career and future. The trades are not for everyone, but importantly, college is also not for everyone. Neither is better than the other. They are just different paths to take so please don’t label one or the other as good or bad. I ask that the trades get a fair shake as an amazing option for anyone’s future career.