We closed the door on 2014 with a trip back in time to an editorial that I had written in 1989 because it echoed so many of the same things we are facing today. When I found that article I also found a couple of others. We’re going to start 2015 off with a look at an editorial I wrote in 1998. I hope you enjoy meeting this friend of mine from the past:
Coming soon: The Shop
Our books, movies and television seldom pay homage to the professionals who make the greatest difference.
“Where can I find qualified mechanics?” and, “Where can I find skilled operators?” are probably the two most common questions I’ve heard over the years. This has always been a problem, but it now has become more serious.
A possible solution to the problem would be a best seller that becomes an Oscar-winning movie and then a weekly Emmy-winning TV series.
In the book, “The Shop”, our hero Stan Tall is a diesel mechanic graduating from his state’s leading vo-tech diesel college. He’s near the top of his class, and is being courted by several multimillion-dollar equipment dealers. They’ve offered him a new set of tools, with the appropriate tool chests, and a new field-service truck – a sporty model with flare sides.
One of the leading operations in the city has decided to pull out all the stops to get Stan, and has invited him and his wife Patty to the company’s annual blue-collar dinner dance. The music is endless, as is the supply of beer and pizza. Of course, Stan and Patty are not given a chance to spend even one minute together – both are being dazzled by the company leaders and their spouses.
As the evening’s last note fades into memory, Stan and Patty finally succeed in finding each other and leaving in their much-used pickup.
“It certainly would be nice to have a new ride,” Stan says, opening the door for Patty.
“It would,” she agrees, “and to be able to go out to dinner and a movie once in a while. What do you think, Stan, are you going to take the job?”
“They want me to come by and look the shop over.”
Stan’s visit to the shop clinched the deal. The place was spotless, well-lit, air conditioned and better equipped than anything he had imagined. Every service bay was fully stocked with tools, diagnostic equipment, service supplies and support computers.
The decision was easy. Who wouldn’t want to work in these conditions, at a pay level that made the “good life” possible, and be a respected, well-regarded member of an affluent society? Stan was proud of his accomplishments and the fact that he was a professional. He felt a strong sense of security about his and Patty’s future. Stan was a mechanic. Patty was a mechanic’s wife. This was the dream life most parents wanted for their children. Wasn’t it?
Somewhere between the fantasy life in The Shop and the harshness of reality is where we need to be. The truth is that being a mechanic is not a dream for most people.
As a society, we do a poor job of preparing our children for the future. Our tendency is to glorify some professions and ignore others. We do very little to encourage our children to aspire to hands-on professions like mechanics, masonry, carpentry, equipment operation and all the others you can list.
Because of this, most people don’t aspire to enter critically necessary professions. What are we going to do when our mechanical world slowly grinds to a halt because no one can diagnose its problems much less fix them?
Since I wrote this editorial there have been several TV series that focus on the professional skilled worker, including Mike Rowe’s TV series, “Dirty Jobs.”
Visit site-kconstructionzone.com and type “Mike Rowe” in the search box at the top right hand side of the home page.
The final sentence may not be as far from today as we would like to believe. The problems over getting a new highway bill through congress attest to this. Where would we be with out our transportation infrastructure?
“The Roads Must Roll” is a 1940 science fiction short story by Robert A. Heinlein. In the late 1960s, it was awarded a retrospective Nebula Award by the Science Fiction Writers of America and published in The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume One, 1929–1964 anthology in 1970.
The story is set in the near future, when “roadtowns” (wide rapidly moving passenger platforms similar to moving sidewalks, but reaching speeds of 100 mph) have replaced highways and railways as the dominant transportation method in the United States.
Heinlein’s themes are technological change and social cohesion. The fictional social movement he calls functionalism (which is unrelated to the real-life sociological theory of the same name), advances the idea that one’s status and level of material reward in a society must and should depend on the functions one performs for that society.
“The Roads Must Roll” is a good read. Who knows, with our growing shortage of skilled professionals maybe Heinlein’s science fiction fantasy may become reality especially if we have to continue our “roads” maintenance without a coherent highway bill.
Happy New Year.