New York, NY – Despite the obvious advantages careers in the unionized Building Trades offer young people today, negative stereotypes persist. This is especially true in our public and private schools. Too often, trade schools are viewed as a means to educate those who are somehow educationally challenged. It’s a barefaced lie.
Although there are clear distinctions to be made between white and blue collar positions — it’s inaccurate to characterize those differences as a lack of intelligence, training, or proper education. Framing manual labor as a punishment for a lack of attention in school leads to shame-based beliefs and stigmatization. Somehow, working with your hands has come to be viewed as less than or low-class.
The idea that Building Trades careers are menial is not only inaccurate, it undermines the vital nature of those pursuits. Our nation is built on the Building Trades. Our unionized workforce and training centers teach more than assembly instructions and tool seminars. Our unionized workforce and collective bargaining agreements have enabled members to be clothed, housed and fed. We have the open opportunity to advance our skills with professional development. Workers are incentivized to advance in their positions and further educate themselves to earn even more financial freedom. We have health coverage and a strong retirement plan. Our workforce has rock solid benefits and a powerful ethos. And yet, somehow, there is that stigma.
As we face the end of another school year, scores of young adults are fretting about their educational options. Young people everywhere are looking for pathways to good careers. And for many of them, the Building Trades are a great option.
To lay the stigma surrounding the Building Trades to rest, it is imperative to understand that education should be supported and encouraged — not forced or shamed. While there are those waiting in line to become the next top-level executive [as if this is superior], there are countless well-trained and skilled young people now breaking into rewarding industries that will ensure them bright futures.
This commentary is the result of a conversation I recently had with a teacher whose view of the Building Trades was not only insulting, but wrong — and exactly the kind of wrongheaded thinking we need to overcome.
This issue is also very personal for me. As a student, I was told I would end up being a “ditch-digger.” It was intended as an insult. I was told I would be lucky to find a job pumping gas. But I was told this by an underpaid teacher whose view of the world was totally skewed — a person who actually made considerably less than that so-called “ditch-digger.”
As a proud union member, I successfully graduated from the IUOE Local 94 training program. I learned there and I grew there. Not only that, I achieved high grades and honors. Although my training days are behind me, I remain a proud member of a unionized program that continues to evolve and offer true professional development.
Please remember who built the buildings, who paves the roads, transports the goods and keeps the lights on all across this land. Our trades have wired the entire world and enabled global communication.
So, to that teacher who recently shared their opinion about “manual” labor — I’ll tell you what…let’s trade W2’s at the end of the year.
Let’s trade our W2’s regardless of the dirt beneath my fingernails and the starch in your white collared shirt…and then we’ll see who’s still smiling.
Ben Kimmel is a proud member of the IUOE Local 94, as well as an Author, Writer on thewrittenaddiction.com, Mental Health First Aid Instructor, Wellbeing and DEI Content Provider, Certified Addiction and Recovery Coach, Certified Professional Life Coach, and Peer & Wellness Advocate. Ben can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org