Saturday, December 21, 2013

Once Upon An Opportunity

As the industrial revolution progressed, America changed from an agrarian economy to a manufacturing economy. Made in America was proudly stamped on a world of well made and well engineered products. The ability to manufacture, regardless of size or quantity made America, not a world leader, but the world leader. It grew our economy and, especially, our middle class right through into the fifties.

Then, in the sixties, those that lead us, many times down a garden path, decided we are better than factory workers. We should all have college educations. We should all shower before we go to work, not shower the dirt of our toil after a day's hard labor. So manufacturing jobs were sent to other countries. Apprentice programs disappeared. Factories fell to ruin and smokestacks vanished from the horizon.

As is often the case when politicians make great plans. There were flaws. Big flaws. Not everyone wants to or is equipped to or can afford to go to college. Many college courses, while greatly instructive and interesting, do not provide the tools needed to earn a decent living. So we ended up with millions of people who wore white shirts and had clean hands doing office things that required all sorts of thinking and communicating but few manual skills.

When we had a manufacturing centered economy, a young person could go into the factories, start at the bottom, learn skills, they were happy to teach willing learners, and work their way up through the ranks to success. Many industries ran apprentice programs. One of the great machine tool manufacturers, Brown and Sharpe, had an apprentice program for machinists. A graduate of that program had the knowledge base of an MS in mechanical engineering and the manual skills to build just about anything. All of that is gone now.

We need to recover our ability to manufacture. We need the jobs that will be created to support a vital middle class. We need it to be self-sufficient in an emergency. The world is getting more dangerous and we must look to our selves first. Non-traditional colleges must be encouraged to provide the training in manual skills that used to come with "on the job training". We need a well rounded economy where those that don't make it to college can have a full and successful career in a less traditional path. We need to bring back the opportunities that brought this country to greatness and have since been discarded.

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