Encourage your children

By Staff November 1, 1999

In the October 1999 Forum letter, “Shortage of skilled workers,” Thomas Haldi asks the question, “Why would you encourage your children to join the skilled workforce?”

There are any number of valid reasons to encourage your children to enter the skilled trades, none of which have anything to do with making the pay scale for brain surgeons equal to that of a screw machine operator. Here are a few.

1. Not every child has the ability to be a brain surgeon or engineer. You should encourage children to enter fields in which they have ability. If they cannot master the math or other technical aspects of engineering, but have good mechanical aptitude, they may well be better off in a skilled trade.

2. Not all children have an interest in being a brain surgeon, psychiatrist, or engineer (even if they have the mental capacity to do so).

3. Not all families can afford to send their children to college and/or obtain advanced degrees. The child may not want to have to pay off a $40,000 student loan after graduation.

4. Wages are a function of supply and demand within a trade or profession, as well as barriers to entry and relative worth to the community and individual consumer of the services or product. We live in a free economy and the market sets the price. While Mr. Haldi may think skilled trades people should be valued as highly as a professional person should, the marketplace has not done so for a number of good reasons.

5. When there is a shortage of labor in an area, the wages of even the unskilled go up. A crew chief at a fast food restaurant can earn $15-20/hr and get full medical coverage the day they start (high school diploma).

Children should be encouraged to choose the career they show a propensity for. They should be so encouraged if they have the intellectual or mechanical ability to complete the training and either have parents who can afford to support them or are willing to forego income and to take on crushing debt. Beyond that, there is little one can effectively do to force a child to enter any field.

The relative worth of each craft or profession will be determined by the free market, public licensing policy, unions, and the level of desire of those to enter the field. Periodically we hear that there are too few engineers (or other professions) and a few years later, we hear there are too many. What happens is that the wages for any field drop when there is an oversupply of qualified people. When that happens, parents encourage their children to go into those fields and an oversupply results. When this happens, wages in that area go down. — James A. Haigh, PE, CPE