For all the years I have spent penning this Editor’s Note I have been consistent in staying away from politics and just about all things political. The exception is on issues directly related to the roofing industry or your roofing business. 

But (and there is always a “but”), all the recent talk of free college sent me over the edge. Therefore, the least I could do would be to write about it. Since it did not exactly fit my roofing-contractor constituents directly, I had the bright idea that I would submit it as an op-ed so my thoughts could be shared with the rest of the world.

I solicited help from the lobbying group with the NRCA in D.C. to offer this op-ed to the publications up there that all the wonks and pols read. After a few weeks of their sincere efforts? Crickets. Next I submitted it to a couple of the local news outlets in Atlanta. This time it was cicadas. You get the idea. Nothing.

The message below is one I need your help with. If you agree with my sentiments, please share it with someone you know. Somewhere, somehow, we need to get down to the business of rebuilding the brand of the tradesman in this country and I think that begins with a robust career and technical education system. 

For your roofing business, I believe this is no less than a life and death issue.

May 7, 2021

Op-ed by Rick Damato

Don’t Ignore Training for a Skilled American Workforce

The ox is in the ditch and all we do is focus all our time and money on making sure we have enough engineers to design a way out. Putting some hands on the ox’s wagon might be a better solution.

Washington needs to move beyond its fixation with sending all of America’s youth to a four-year college and provide more attention and resources for those seeking another path toward a rewarding career. How can our elected officials not see the profound need for improved training in the trades?  Why are we not encouraging young people who want to work in the trades to do so? Roofers, carpenters, chefs, plumbers, welders, factory workers — the list of high-quality, family-sustaining jobs goes on and on.

Why does Washington not acknowledge the poor results from the billions of dollars spent on four-year universities? According to government statistics, only 62% of these college students graduate with a four-year degree in six years’ time.

It is true that even some college education helps with employment after school. However, of those graduating, roughly a third of them are underemployed (employed in jobs that do not require college). Additionally, many of these students carry the burden of student-loan debt well into their working lives.

All this focus on higher education for all our young as jobs go unfilled for the lack of skilled workers in the trades. It should be clear that not all young people belong in a two or four-year degree program. We need a growing number of students prepared to leave school to work in the trades.

Encouraging an education for emerging trade workers should begin in secondary schools or sooner. Beyond that, the opportunity for continuing education in the trades should be available to all who seek it. If the government is going to actively encourage our youth to go to college, then they should equally promote a career in the trades.

I realize that some students will be able to take advantage of government programs as they pursue higher education in career and technical education schools. Government funding is important, but the message coming from our leadership is arguably even more vital to begin the task of lifting the perception of our tradesmen and women as valued members of our society.

This administration seems to be looking to bolster trade unions to address the needs of trade workers. I believe unions would agree that we have a shortage of skilled workers. Why not provide additional resources to organizations like SkillsUSA, which supports career and technical education students from the secondary level and up?

Investing in human infrastructure simply cannot leave this vital segment of our workforce behind. Building and continuously training our American skilled trade workforce is a matter of national security. And, in my view, should be a matter of national pride.

Who among us is not proud of our first responders? Or my son, the certified technician who works with his hands? He is one of the unsung heroes working behind the scenes making sure the fire-fighting equipment and ambulances operate as needed. I could not be more proud of him.