You can’t build ‘green’ without skilled labor

By Patrice Lewis

A few months ago, the New Yorker ran an article by David Owen entitled “The Great Electrician Shortage.” Despite the title, the article opened with an anecdote about a plumbing emergency experienced by the author during a winter storm. Unable to solve his issue using YouTube videos, the author frantically tried to find a qualified plumber to help. Once located, the plumber fixed the issue, then noted: “There aren’t enough plumbers now, Dave. What do you think it’s going to be like in 10 years?”

The New Yorker is a famously left-wing publication, and even it acknowledges the obvious: There aren’t enough plumbers. Or electricians. Or general contractors. Or pipe fitters. Or HVAC experts. Or stone masons. Or … well, you get the idea.

“Many skilled trades face similar shortages, and those shortages have environmental consequences,” writes Owen. “The Inflation Reduction Act includes billions in tax credits and direct funding for a long list of climate-friendly projects, but all of them depend on the availability of workers who can execute and maintain them.” Owen acknowledges that green infrastructure maintenance requires “welders, machinists, mechanics, carpenters, pipe fitters, and many others” to make it work, not to mention HVAC technicians, plumbers, and others in the skilled trades. [Italics added.]

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Part of the reason for the shortage of skilled laborers is propaganda. “[F]or decades, employers, educators, politicians, and parents have argued that the only sure ticket to the good life in America is a college degree,” notes Owen. “People who graduate from college do earn more, on average, than people who don’t, but the statistics can be misleading. Many young people who start don’t finish, yet still take on tens of thousands in education loans – and those who do graduate often discover that the economic advantage of holding a degree can be negated, for years, by the cost of having acquired it. Those who skip college frequently do better, and not just at first.”

Another factor to consider is the current quality of higher education. For example, a new seminar is being offered at Cornell University on how queer, trans, black, indigenous and people of color experience care through food. According to the Daily Caller, “The seminar titled ‘Have You Eaten Yet? QTBIPOC Care’ aims to use written texts and popular media such as ‘Lizzo’s music videos’ and ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ to analyze how queer, trans, black, indigenous and people of color give, receive and experience care through food, according to the course listing.”

Let me remind you how many college kids are accruing tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loan debt only to be taught stuff like this. It’s for this reason (among many others) that Americans are losing their love affair with college. It’s about time.

A recent headline in the publication Intelligent states, “51% of Americans Think Public Colleges Should Stop Offering Degrees That Lead to Low-Paying Jobs.” An additional 40% of survey respondents indicated that programs leading to low-paying jobs shouldn’t qualify for federal financial aid. It strikes me as sensible to limit degrees in which graduates have no hope of ever paying down their student loans because the market in their chosen fields pays too little.

Some of the fields being targeted for reform include Sociology, Creative Writing, Environmental Science, Gender Studies, Art History, Religious Studies, Teaching, Psychology and Ethnic Studies. (For what it’s worth, Gender Studies tops the list of degrees respondents said should be eliminated from public colleges.) Interestingly, the survey was bipartisan, with about equal numbers of conservatives and liberals in favor of eliminating low-paying degrees.

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I should point out that it’s not that these are bad subjects to study (with the possible exception of Gender Studies, which some say has a negative value since pedigreed feminists are often workplace lawsuits waiting to happen). It’s just that students shouldn’t put themselves in a hundred thousand dollars of debt to learn Art History or Egyptology when there are relatively few jobs in those fields, and what jobs are available don’t pay enough to justify the debt load.

Critics point out that even low-paying degrees have value in the job market because college teaches students “how to learn and think in a particular way based on a discipline. While many degrees certainly do lead to specific job outcomes, an undergraduate degree is aimed at building more general skills and perspectives that lead students to be better able to pursue work, think critically, and also to be prepared to be engaged and informed citizens who can appreciate the breadth of the world that will unfold around them.”

While this may be true, the biggest issue isn’t so much the earning potential of the degree as it is the amount of debt a student will incur after he graduates. If he has no hope of ever paying it off, the degree is far more detrimental than beneficial.

It’s criminal to steer vulnerable high school students toward useless degrees and shackling debt that will, literally, enslave them for a lifetime. I honestly consider the modern student loan industry to be one of the greatest and most wretched scams in history.

Yet according to recent data, there have been three-quarters of a million job postings from nearly 95,000 different employers around the country in the skilled trades.

Earlier this week an errand took me to town where I observed a woman on a commercial building’s rooftop, doing repairs to an air conditioning unit. I wanted to stand up and cheer. Nothing says skilled labor must be the realm of men – women are perfectly capable of achieving similar levels of success in these positions.

Yet the edu-snobs continue to push higher education, despite its manifold flaws and its impact on the “green” future they so desperately want. “[T]here’s this cultural stigma associated with those blue-collar, mixed-collar jobs,” says RedBalloon CEO Andrew Crapuchettes. “There are lots of opportunities to work hard, not build $200,000 of school debt, and still be able to support a family and live a really good life. But there’s a stigma associated with this.”

My hope is that young people will ignore the siren call of college unless they have a true vocation in the STEM fields. But if you plan on studying psychology or theater or (heaven forbid) Gender Studies, please – I beg you – come to your financial senses and study something useful instead. If you really want to build – literally build – a green future, then this is one of the pathways. Think of the environment – and your bank account.

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