May 2018

At the age of 14 I went to work.

I didn’t come from a broken home, nor did my dad lose his job. I and my siblings had shoes and we didn’t walk uphill in the snow to school both ways. I came from a middle-class family with a strong work ethic and simply decided I wanted to work. But finding a job isn’t the real story, it’s the type of job I found. Shortly after eighth grade I began working in construction and continued through summers and school breaks until my graduation from college. These nine years were the most transformative of my adult life. Besides learning to curse from the company truck driver, Joe, working in construction taught me the value of planning, execution and craftsmanship. I learned that after a physically exhausting day I could point to a real, physical accomplishment. I discovered that working with your hands was valuable and important.

After five years of college I began a professional career as a “knowledge” worker. Those of us that obtained college degrees and went to work primarily in offices. However, I have retained a close connection to those that work in the skilled trades or manufacturing. These workers possess abilities learned from generations of others who did similar tasks before them. Clearly the tools and machines are better, there are higher levels of technical skills required and the projects and products are more sophisticated and challenging. But at the end of each day or task there is something tangible to see, touch and experience. There is dignity in making things.

Today, because so many of us decided to become knowledge workers there is a troubling shortage of those willing to work with their hands. Manufacturers are starving for a trained workforce and construction prices and schedules are impacted by a labor shortage. We are already experiencing the quality and cost issues associated with the loss of a valuable portion of our workforce.

Fortunately, there are opportunities to correct this compounding problem. One of these is located here in Willoughby, The Northern Career Institute. Located in the former North Coast Lincoln-Mercury dealership, NCI includes programs in Auto Collision, Auto Services, and Welding, among others. These are important and well-paying careers where we know there is a significant lack of talent. In a highly creative move, Mayfield Schools will be occupying a structure near NCI to initiate a construction trades training program. These are challenging and fulfilling career paths that are a perfect fit for those who prefer to be “makers” rather than office dwellers. I am hopeful that we will begin to celebrate and support this new generation of tradespeople.