I recently decided to remodel a few “simple” things around the house. First item on the list: replacing my old shower door with a frameless one. Little did I know, that would require the services of a plumber and ceramic tiler before the glass could be installed.

Next up: replacing the foyer chandelier. The easy part was selecting the new one; then I had to schedule the electrician. I called one company three times over a two-week period before finally getting a call back. By then, I had decided to look elsewhere. Kudos to Koener Electric, who not only called back within the hour, but scheduled the work within a few days.

When the sump pump backs up, who is the most important person in your life? The plumber, of course. It’s always fun to meet with the decorator, but without the plasterer, floorlayer, cabinetmaker and electrician, the decorator’s job can’t be done.

I have the utmost respect for the skilled tradespeople. While working on this issue, we celebrated Labor Day, and our laborers have been very much on the mind. But as a recent Newsweek article pointed out, “It was the bleakest Labor Day since at least the 1980s.” Whether we’re still in recession or a “jobless recovery,” times remain tough.

“Poor job growth has been the norm during the last two recoveries,” adds James C. Cooper in BusinessWeek, and “the same pattern may be shaping up this time.” And yet, according to Joshua Cooper Ramo of Kissinger Associates, roughly one million high-skilled jobs in this country remain unfilled. A structural shift in the economy has produced a serious divide between the skills of unemployed workers and the skills required to fill these jobs.
Mike Rowe, host of the cable television show “Dirty Jobs,” claims, “We’ve convinced ourselves that ‘good jobs’ are the result of a four-year degree. That’s bunk. Not all knowledge comes from college. Skill is back in demand. Steel-toed boots are back in fashion.”

So while the high-tech “knowledge economy” offers one track for the jobs of the future, it is becoming clearer and clearer that the skilled trades—jobs which cannot be lost to global outsourcing—present an equally viable and lucrative path. A recent Journal Star headline read: “Recent college grads having tough time finding job in chosen field, or any full-time work at all.” And just beneath that story? “More people seek technical retraining…enrollment in skilled-trade classes up in downturn.”

No one disputes the value of a college education, but it’s not right for everyone. It’s apparent to many that, over the last two decades, the public education system has become too entrenched in a one-size-fits-all mentality. Slowly but surely, that appears to be changing—witness, for example, the industrial/sustainable technology academy brought this year to Peoria’s Manual High School as part of that school’s restructuring. Even so, I fear that the system as we know it is not keeping up with the lightning-quick changes that are shaping today’s global economy.

The sluggish recovery may foreshadow anemic job growth for some time to come. It’s imperative that we shrink that skills gap and rethink our roadmaps to careers—this nation’s ability to bounce back to prosperity may well depend on it. iBi