In the Shop
As a farm machinery mechanic and writer, Dan brings a hands-on approach that only a pro can muster. Along with his In the Shop blog, Dan writes a column by the same name as well as the Shop Series for Farm Journal magazine. Always providing practical information, he is a master at tackling technical topics and making them easy for all of our readers to understand. He and his wife, Becky, live near Bouton, Iowa.
Jobs Without Flip-Flops
Aug 11, 2013
Talk with the manager of any service-oriented business and there's a common complaint: "We can't find qualified workers." It's the same where I work--our dealership desperately needs experienced mechanics. We're not alone--I have relatives in plumbing and heating who say they never have enough journeymen to meet their customers' needs. The same goes for nearly any vocation that requires hands-on technical skills and experience.
I'll be indelicate to make a point: decades ago it was common for the kids who weren't interested in math and grammar and chemistry to gravitate toward the industrial shop and technical trades classes, where they learned how to work on cars and equipment, and ended up making a good living fixing things. That may still be the case, but many of the technical trades now require significant math and chemistry and other curriculums because of the complexity of modern machinery. Every mechanic in the dealership where I work as at least a two-year technical degree, and a couple have four-year Bachelor of Science degrees. Quite frankly, you've got to have some smarts to fix things nowadays.
Our society may be under-valuing educations in technical trades. There are stable, comfortable-income careers waiting for young people--or laid-off middle-aged people--in the service industry. And they are stable careers. Financial businesses lay off employees at every twinge of the stock market, and computer companies are nearly as fickle. But there are always cars that need fixed, tractors that need repaired, and plumbing that needs plumbed. The service industry, for the most part, is recession-resistant.
The problem with working in the service industry, especially the agricultural service industry, is the working conditions and the hours. Everybody seems to want a job where they can write software while wearing flip-flops and a Hawaiian shirt. Service jobs are physically demanding and often uncomfortable. You get greasy, dirty, and as a farm equipment mechanic you work long hours in snotty weather spring, summer and fall. (In the winter you just get greasy, dirty and do physically demanding and uncomfortable work, but at least you're in a warm shop.)
I have no clever close for this blog. I have no solution for the looming shortage of service workers qualified to work on complicated, high-tech equipment. But in the not-too distant future I can see where someone willing to get dirty could make a living comparable to those who now make their living in Hawaiian shirts and flip-flops.