Looking Beyond the Pandemic: We Need a Change in Attitude

Christy Stephens Martin, Ed.D.

Our nation is suffering from a labor shortage. Most especially, in the area of trades and unskilled labor. As a nation, we have encouraged our youth to go to college and seek the higher echelons of medicine, law, business, engineering, and architecture. We have encouraged them to seek a career that will ring of success and discouraged those fields that require labor, dirt and skilled knowledge. We have steered them away from manufacturing, once middle America's bedrock of success. It is time to change the trend and point our young people in the direction of successful careers in all areas and all fields. All our youth need to be trained on how to work. Moreover, they all need to know what a career in a skilled trade, manufacturing, or unskilled labor can mean for their future.

We must have our own change of attitude. Hopefully, this pandemic has given us a view of what really is important. Persons who pursue a career in skilled trades have a very successful and often financially lucrative employment experience. They work independently, for small companies or large ones. The lens through which we view the people that keep our homes and lives comfortable by being skilled plumbers, carpenters, HVAC experts, electricians, truckers, and tech experts should be getting clearer. We need these workers and should respect their place in our world.

As communities, we need to work together with schools and industry to provide training and education that encourages and highlights the opportunities available. There is no one formula. Each community is different. However, in our high schools, vocational programs need to be showcased and updated. Collaborative programming with local business and industry that recruits the best that graduate from these programs should be widely recognized and celebrated as a sought-after career.

For years, we have offered dual credit to our high schoolers in academic areas. Why not in skilled trades? Collaborative relationships with skilled trades training centers should be sought out as aggressively as we do those in academia. Partnerships with business, industry, manufacturing, and post-secondary training are the key to providing a talented work force.

Supervised collaborative internships with more flexible work hours could provide some students with the guidance they need. Look around at the "Help Wanted" signs and you will see that there is a need for workers, but also a need to train them not just in the job, but how to work.

In schools, we need to be teaching our young people the self-discipline needed to work. Practical skills in following directions, polite and understandable interchange with others, respectful conversation and forms of address, even how to dress, plan for and maintain yourself during a work day are some of the many skills that some of our young people are lacking. How jobs and industry provide a thriving economy and how taxes, payroll, health insurance and other aspects of employment work are all lessons in life that our next generation need.

Representatives from our manufacturing jobs, skilled labor community, and unskilled labor jobs should be on leadership teams in every community that recruits business and industry, partners with education, and plans for a community's future. We must walk the talk of respect of their contribution to our lives and provide them a respected voice.

The pandemic will soon end. Our need to change our own attitudes about jobs and what we see as success should be changing. Every one of our young people hold their own individuality and their own talent that can provide our country with a skilled, disciplined, and enthusiastic work force. Opening our own minds to what success really means is key to their future.


About the author

Dr. Christy Martin recently retired with 30 plus years of experience as an educator in K-12 and higher education and another 6 years in social service for foster youth. She considers advocating for at-risk youth a calling. Since retiring in February, she has returned to her love of writing, currently practicing that craft by writing about child welfare and school issues. She lives in East Tennessee, 15 miles from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.


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