When good paying jobs go unfilled

We hear so much these days about the unemployment figures and the lack of good paying jobs for the disappearing middle class that it’s almost become the new normal. Combined with that, the plaintive cries from the OWS occupiers about the heavy burdens of oppressive college loans for graduates unable to find work have become a regular fixture in political discussions. Which is why it’s odd when we see the Wall Street Journal reporting on employers looking to fill relatively high wage jobs and having little to no success in finding takers.

Ferrie Bailey’s job should be easy: hiring workers amid the worst stretch of unemployment since the Depression.

A recruiter for Union Pacific Corp., she has openings to fill, the kind that sometimes seem to have all but vanished: secure, well-paying jobs with good benefits that don’t require a college degree.

But they require specialized skills—expertise in short supply even with the unemployment rate at 9%. Which is why on a recent morning the recruiter found herself in a hiring hall here anxiously awaiting the arrival of just two people she had invited to interviews, winnowed from an initial group of nearly five dozen applicants. With minutes to go, the folding chairs sat empty. “I don’t think they’re going to show,” Ms. Bailey said, pacing in the basement room.

Moe Lane jumps on this opportunity with a decision to send the kids to electrician’s school.

Or maybe it’ll be plumber’s school. Or welding. Doesn’t really matter: until people don’t have to spend tens of thousands of dollars a year to get poorly educated for white-collar jobs that don’t actually exist, some sort of technical training is looking more and more attractive. We’re always going to need electricians and plumbers, and they can improve their minds on their lunch breaks. Which they’ll get, because we’re always going to need electricians and plumbers.

It’s a valid point which we’ve made here before and always draw criticism for it. I’m not saying there’s no value to a college education. Having the right sheepskin and a willingness to work hard is absolutely a solid course for those with the ability to pursue it. But not everyone can and – increasingly – fewer and fewer are willing to look at lower cost but potentially productive alternate paths.

I’ve told this story before, but it bears repeating. Right in my neighborhood there is the son of one of my neighbors who finished high school several years back and went into an apprenticeship and technical school training program for heating and air conditioning. Within six months of graduating high school he had a secure, full time job which is bringing in some seriously good pay and benefits. Yes, the job involves hard work, finds him coming home covered in dirt and dust, and he frequently has to deal with irate, if not panicking homeowners. But he had no outstanding debt and at the age of 25 was already purchasing his first home. As his father tells it, he got a terrific rate on it, putting down a very substantial down payment.

The point is, there is still blue collar work out there to be done. And unlike many white collar jobs, a lot of it will never be able to be outsourced to other countries, as so often happens to computer programming jobs and others in related fields. Nobody is going to be able to log in to “the cloud” from Brazil and dig a new foundation for your home, wire it up, install the plumbing or put on a new roof. Those jobs will remain here at home.

I would once again suggest taking a look at Matthew B. Crawford’s wonderful book, Shop Class as Soulcraft. In it, he examines what he describes as “the value of work.” He also notes with dismay the decades long trend of high schools abandoning shop class and any other training for skills requiring the use of your hands. When schools began to push everyone to go to a university, they also seemed to scorn and delegitimize the trades, much to our detriment. And now we see jobs which could help rebuild the middle class going empty because we’ve forgotten the value of good old fashioned work.