Lately, as Kish has noted, we’ve been having some painting done at our house. The experience has got me to thinking about work, and jobs.
Our painter has been doing a good job. He shows up at the right time. He is quiet, keeps to himself, and applies himself fully to the task at hand. The quality of his work is high, and there have been no accidents or incidents, no drips or splots or runs. In short, he has all of those intangible characteristics that separate a good worker from a bad one: reliability, diligence, carefulness, and concern about quality. And, to cap it all off, he charges a fair price for his work. We learned about this painter through word of mouth, and it’s no wonder that he came highly recommended. It’s also not surprising that he is being kept busy. It’s hard to find a capable, dependable, reasonably priced painter these days.
When you think about it, being a painter wouldn’t be a bad gig. You work by yourself and set your own schedule. You don’t have to supervise employees or pay rent for a storefront. You might occasionally encounter an unreasonable or pesky customer, but for the most part people will appreciate your work and thank you for a job well done. And your job can’t be outsourced; for so long as people live in houses, paint and painters will be needed.
So why don’t more people become painters, or carpenters, or electricians, or auto mechanics, or plumbers? I’m not the only person who is asking that question. Mike Rowe, who hosts the TV show Dirty Jobs on the Discovery Channel, has written to both President Obama and Mitt Romney about the shortage of skilled labor and the dismissal of careers in such occupations. President Obama did not respond to the letter, which Rowe sent four years ago. Romney at least has read it; now we’ll see whether he says or does anything about it.
Not everyone needs to go to college — and, in the process, incur tens of thousands of dollars of debt that will limit their life choices thereafter. As we look at our national policy on education, we should consider the need for people in the skilled trades, stop acting like those jobs are somehow unworthy, and stop trying to convince people that they inevitably will be failures if they don’t go to college.