Middle America wants its jobs back. But they are not coming back the way they were. The big push to rebuild America’s infrastructure – on a big and small scale — will require a new workforce, one that has greater problem solving capability and technical ability.
With automation increasingly taking over routine tasks, the assembly-line model is all but coming to an end. No longer do we need plant workers to perform repetitive, menial jobs that are mentally and physically wearying. Instead, we need men and women who bring more creative and technical skills to the job. Today, working as an electrician, a plumber, a car mechanic, or a builder, today’s blue-collar employee must possess more technical job skills to do their job effectively. Most of the new industrial jobs require computer skills, and sometimes even coding—not deep algorithmic coding, but basic math and logic skills – and creative problem solving skills involving complex systems and global processes.
For today’s industrial worker, understanding systems, processes and how things work is more important than being able to repeat a routine task. A far cry from the “cog-in-the-wheel” mentality of assembly-line workers, modern blue-collar workers must approach issues from a top-down perspective, making decisions that consider the entire process and all its related components. They may, for example, be required to decide what tasks are appropriate for a machine- or computer-driven process to perform next. Or they may oversee what needs to get done (and when it doesn’t, decide what to do next).
Secondary education used to offer auto shop, metal shop, and wood shop courses, as well as typewriting, sewing, and cooking—all skills that continue to be as important in today’s world. Our high schools would do well to reinstitute basic vocational education, enhanced with offerings that prepare students for the various technical schools and two-year college programs that have cropped up in recent years.
Today, we are well served to embrace the inevitable transition to more skills, more education, more teamwork, and more deep thinking, and apply the tools we have built. It is a time where people are beginning to be recognized for their own value, rather than feeling as insignificant and interchangeable as the parts they produce. They are also better paid: Today’s top blue-collar jobs pay a median wage ranging $60,000 to $90,000 per year, with the more technology-intensive positions at the top end of the pay scale. What’s more, the market is growing more than 10% per year.
We live in a time where people are beginning to be recognized for their own value …
This is a time for us to emerge as people—humans empowered by technology. Rather than pining for the old days, let’s embrace the coming changes and create a better world.