Today at the MATS, Eddie and I met a television icon; actor John Ratzenberger. Who hasn't had Cliff Clavin from Cheers in their household at least once in their lives?? John Ratzenberger was at the show to pay homage to the working class men and women of the trucking industry. In a recent article in Road King magazine (the one on the table in front of him, which I got a signed copy of!) it was written that he is using his fame to raise awareness about the importance and rewards of blue-collar jobs. He was quoted as saying "Being an actor is not a necessary job, nor is being a baseball player or a rock star. They're nice jobs, they're fun, but driving a truck is necessary for civilization."
His largest initiative according the the article, is Nuts, Bolts & Thingamajigs; the foundation of the Fabricators & Manufacturer's Association. He said the mission of the foundation is to "Give children tools and watch them build America". I love that. In fact, the foundation's motto is the "Dedicated to nurturing the tinkering spirit".
The sad thing is that not many parents nurture that tinkering spirit in their children. John Ratzenberger said "We're running out of people who know how to make things and we've neglected to teach kids the skills that can capture those jobs. Where are the mechanics, or the people who are going to build trucks, or operate the machines that make their parts?"
John Ratzenberger got the idea for Nuts, Bolts & Thingamajigs when he was traveling around the country filming his show, Made In America, for the Travel Channel. Many of the employers he visited thought the problem of the diminishing workforce was just a local thing, but it turned out to be a nationwide trend.
There was a survey done in 2009 that found only 17% or Americans named manufacturing in which to start a career and only 30% of parents said they'd encourage their children to go into the field of manufacturing. That same year, another survey was done that listed electricians, carpenters and welders as among the hardest jobs to fill in America.
When I met him today, I told him that my grandfather was a welder in the Bronx and worked on the Tappan Zee Bridge (I figured he'd know the bridge since he was from Connecticut). He joked and said, "He must not have been afraid of heights." I explained how I was aware of the fact that not a lot of people are going into the fields that our parents and grandparents were in, any of the skilled labor trades. He said, "Right. They're telling their kids to "go to college". But you know, you can make $80 an hour being a welder."
I told him my brother owned his own company for over 20 years, that he was a tile contractor and essentially started out as his own labor. He continued to build his business and now, although he still does a lot of the custom design work himself, is involved in large projects with small crews on each job, but that it's very hard to find people who want to learn a trade, perfect a craft.
In the article he said he believes part of the reason fewer and fewer students are going into trades is something truck drivers are familiar with - the portrayal of blue-collar professions in TV and movies. "The media has played a big part in demeaning anyone who works for a living, so why would a child watching that depiction want to go into that? They don't understand the manual dexterity, the intelligence needed to create something."
When I see my youngest nephew play in the dirt in my mother's backyard or pile bricks to create his own "building", I see someone who is passionate about what he's doing. After all, this is the kid who asked for a jack-hammer and blow torch for his birthday this year.
I think it's our responsibility to encourage more kids to ask for jack-hammers and blow torches. Teach your kids to tinker. Show interest and help them when they express the desire to build something. Encourage creativity. Set an example by showing your child how to work with their hands by doing so yourself. Make your mission the same as the Nuts, Bolts and Thingamajigs foundation's mission.
Nurture the tinkering spirit.
* The title of this blog post is a direct quote from John Ratzenberger.
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