Sunday, December 10, 2006

America takes one on the chin

Back in December 1941, America was deep into isolationism. Hitler was rolling across Europe with ease, swallowing up whole countries with his lightning war offensive. It was Europe’s problem was the common consensus; why should we be bothered with it?

Japan had been building its war machine compliments of American steel exports (mainly our junk cars, which Americans found hilarious) since it invaded Manchuria in 1931, then China in 1937 and although analysts warned of Japan’s war intentions, Americans were in no mood for “fooling with them”. We saw ourselves as invincible and a self-sufficient “island”.

We took one on the chin, when Japan wiped-out the U.S. Navy fleet at Pearl Harbor and forced America into the war.

At the Tehran Conference, Winston Churchill warned Franklin Roosevelt that placating Joseph Stalin would have repercussions impossible to correct. FDR chose to ignore that excellent advice and we entered into 40 years of contention with the Soviet Union, “The Cold War” and the nuclear build-up.

Once again, we took one on the chin for failing to act on the obvious.

With the immense technological development of the atomic bomb in our pockets, we were once again blind-sided in 1957 when the Soviets launched Sputnik 1 into orbit. The negative military implications of an orbiting rocket brought the very real possibility that our WWII ally could drop “the big one” on us. The Space Race began and even though American Robert Goddard was the world’s leading expert on rocketry, “the scientific community, the public, and even The New York Times scoffed at him”.

CRACK! We took it right on the chin. Only our resiliency and entrepreneurial spirit saved us. The technology and jobs created from the Space Race launched us into the lead.

All signs point to the fact we are in a period where blind-folded America will take it on the chin again. We are a resilient bunch, but why must we always take a beating before we take measures to break the cycle?

The next threat we will face will come from with-in and it’s in the way we educate and graduate students.

We are graduating students with general education certificates and the second they exit the podium, they either go straight to college, or into the military. A few have jobs lined up, a couple go into a convent, but the majority wonder what in the world are they going to do next. Years ago, before this country became so prosperous; adults encouraged their children to learn a trade and took pride in this.

Today’s parents encourage their children to prepare for college, which in itself is not bad, and the curriculum of most high schools is aimed specifically at college entry. Back up 30 years and students entering high school were given an option of learning a trade or skill that could enable them to earn a living right out of school. This trade skill was also real handy for paying their own way through night classes, should they decide to do so.

Today’s parents would be embarrassed to admit their child was in a high school program to be a plumber or carpenter when asked at a social gathering. “What? They aren’t going to Texas A&M (where I’m sending mine)”? “You mean they are actually studying to use their hands and not their brains”? “My, my, my, my, my”! “Joe, did you hear? Ol’ stupid ain’t sending their kid to university, or even, dare I say, Lee College”!

Folks can’t seem to connect the loss of jobs going overseas, kicking out the migrant workers, and the general malaise of our youth, to the fact that graduates have nothing going for them when they exit high school. They are stay at home kids, looking for an entry level $30 an hour job (with bonus’ and lots of benefits) that will support the lifestyle their well-meaning parents have built for them.

In an article in USA Today dated 12/5/06 titled “U.S. Manufacturers getting desperate for skilled workers” the author details this epidemic. Businesses are sending work overseas not because of cheap labor, but because they cannot fill the ranks here. They are paying for untrained Americans schooling and increasing pay rates. Businesses are turning down contracts or outsourcing to meet demand.

On a local level and on a for instance basis, Austin Industries is paying the fees of night classes to train workers in job skills, something that hasn’t been seen in 30 years.

We are in a period I call a “jobber’s market”. There are so many jobs, folks are “dragging up” and hiring in with ease. Chemical Plants are losing Engineers and Operators at an astounding rate as they seek better benefits and higher pay. The last time I remember this being the case was the mid-70’s. A craftsman could quit a job at noon and be hired back on before the work day was over.

It’s difficult for a business to even find a craftsman these days, which is less than 40 years of age. My hat is off to all who are under 40 and actually working as craftsmen.

We need an immediate overhaul of our school system which gives strong focus on teaching vocational/technological skills, allowing graduates the opportunity to exit high school with a trade and prepared for college.

Baytown could lead the effort in Texas.

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