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Mike Colon

From the Desk of Mike Colon, Blue Collar Black Book Founder

The Next Generation of Tradesmen: Who the Hell is Training These People?

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The Baby Boomers are disappearing from the trades like teenagers at a party getting raided by the cops. Generation X is getting to the point where they aren't as strong as they used to be. I heard there was a Generation after them but if they exist you would have to point them out because I don't see a whole lot of them on my jobs. So who is going to do the work when we can't anymore. I guess it's time to head back to school....Literally!

Most people in the trades agree, our industry is not in the best shape. We are having a hard time filling the ranks with new fresh blood. Some of that fresh blood appears to be flat out rotten. I'm talking about people with bad attitudes, terrible work ethics, a complete lack of discipline, no patience for developing their own talents or paying their dues and a lot of them lack the basic mechanical skills to even start in the trades.

So how the hell do we fix this problem? I say Leadership & Training.

There is this organization that used to be pretty damn powerful. You might even say they were amazing. They got us overtime, weekends, benefits, pensions and better working conditions. You know damn well I am talking about UNIONS. Somewhere along the line somebody managed to convince people they weren't worth paying a few bucks a month in union dues. Some people have had a bad experience with union bureaucracy that has left them with a bad taste in their mouth. I think 30 years of wage stagnation is proof enough that we still need them. Yes unions have been weakened like a starving bear just waking up from hibernation and yes they are a shadow of their former self but I think it's about time we feed that bear a deer and cut it loose to save the trades from disaster.

Here is what I would like to see from our beloved champions of the working man:

Standardized Training:

You may have missed it while you were busy working your ass off trying to make ends meet, feeding your family and your bank account on the putrid scraps of people and companies that have money, but there is a well funded effort to make sure the final bullet gets put into Unions. There is only one way for unions to dodge that bullet and it's to make themselves valuable to all working men not just their members.

If Unions would only open their doors to train all willing new tradesmen, regardless of affiliation, the trades would be on the road to recovery. Nobody said they have to do it for free. The Unions have always done an excellent job of training people. I would really like to see them take these young recent high school graduates and whip them into shape with some discipline, respect, work ethic and knowledge. It's shameful there are private trade schools popping up all over the place and the Unions are missing out on a ton of much needed income. I have zero experience or first hand knowledge of these private trade schools but I will put $50 bucks down right now on a bet that

Unions still train apprentice's better.

The best part is, with Unions training ALL apprentice's, across the spectrum of trades, an entire generation of tradesmen will be indoctrinated with the Union philosophy that the working man deserves to make a decent living with respect and dignity. I think we can all agree that's true. And guess what, we will get it back with such widespread training. Now, IF, the Unions can make that happen, they will inevitably be back in a position of Leadership. Not just leadership within their ranks but industry wide leadership. They will be in a position to overcome a lot of those negative traits we see in the younger generation. This will lead to a far better quality of new tradesmen..... I mean better than what they are now...... They will never be better than us old salty journeyman. Am I right guys or what?

We all know Unions don't have the contracts to take on significant numbers of new members and still put them to work but what about this? Say the Unions open themselves up for non­union shops to purchase “union style” benefits. Let's say a non­union shop has to pay a slight premium to get the same benefits as a shop who is union, wouldn't this work out for everybody? A union shop has the benefits of the staffing ability of the union with at slightly discounted cost of benefits. The non-union shop pays a premium for the same benefits but has some certain flexibilities that the Unionsjust wouldn't stand for. Then, when bidding work, the playing field would be much more level between union and non union shops, as far as cost of labor. In this scenario, ALL WORKERS WIN! and that, in theory, is the overall goal of the unions, is it not?

As if I hadn't asked for too much already, what about this? As part of the basic 4 or 5 year apprenticeship program, the Unions worked into the training some essential education to make tradesmen successful not just in their trade, but in life. Add some college level classes like business, marketing, sales, economics, labor theory (I don't even know if that's a real class but it should be) and a few other classes essential to a successful career in the construction “BUSINESS”. I wish guys were trained to the level of being qualified and knowledgeable enough (not necessarily ready) to get their license and run their own trade business, upon successfully completing a now 5­6 year apprenticeship program. Would it be too much to ask, after completing a 5­6 year apprenticeship program you get a bachelor degree in construction for the extra year or two of training?

When prosperity comes back to the trades and a kid coming out of high school has an opportunity to make some money and get a bachelor degree at the same time, well you have some potential for a successful career and path in life that you can market. By market I mean sell the idea to the kids before they get out of high school. There is already people like Mike Rowe with the Mike Rowe Works foundation who is trying to do just that but he can't do it alone. Nor should he have to.

Midway through my career in the trades I look around and it seems we are at a crossroads. Blue Collar Black Book can educate it's users with customer based information, trade information and connect the industry in a powerful way, but we aren't training anybody how to do the job. The only way I see to get on the path to prosperity is through communication, solidarity, and education. I truly believe it can't be done without the Unions. The unions are still the main vehicle for the prosperity of the Tradesmen. However, Unions need to realize, without educating and working with non­union labor neither side will prosper. And if you are Union Labor or Union Leadership I would like nothing more than to work with you for a better industry. I AM PART OF THE SOLUTION, are you?

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