Generally speaking, the job market is crap. Young people are coming out of college with degrees, many of them with tens of thousands of dollars in loans to pay back, and they can’t find a job. Yet society keeps telling teens they must go to college if they want a good future.

It’s time to stop this madness. And the first step, as I see it, is to start changing the way society looks at jobs.

We must stop judging people’s worth–worth to society but especially worth as human beings–by how much money they make. Maybe some of that is already happening, as ordinary folks find out just how corrupt are some of the people at the top in business–how they are not helping but rather are hurting society as a whole, along with millions of individuals. Along with that, we must praise business leaders who do right for society and for their employees, and we must support their businesses to the extent we can, even if we pay a little more or have a bit more inconvenience.

Next, we must stop judging people’s worth by some arbitrary status we assign to the work we do. And yes, it is arbitrary–it’s a social construct. In some societies teachers have much higher social status than in the U.S. In some societies physicians have lower status than in the U.S. And no matter how many jokes we tell about scum-sucking bottom-feeders, lawyers still have high social status here.

What do we need more of right now, lawyers or plumbers? Journalists or electricians? Accountants or HVAC technicians? In every case, the second one is the answer.  Angie’s List magazine, in a current article, says that with so many tradespeople nearing retirement and fewer young people entering the trades, the labor shortage in such fields as heating and air conditioning, plumbing, electrical, roofing, drywalling, and tiling is acute and will get worse.

So why aren’t we–as a society, but also as parents and teachers–steering more young people away from years in college and into the trades? I think that one important factor is job status.  Too many parents would rather say, “My daughter is a lawyer” than “My daughter is a plumber.” But let’s inject some of the realities of today: wouldn’t they rather say, “My daughter is an employed plumber who just bought a house” than “My daughter the lawyer can’t find a job and has $100,000 in student loans to pay back”?

Pointing students toward the trades got a bad reputation when guidance counselors were doing that for most of their minority students, while they helped less-qualified white students apply to college. That situation absolutely had to change, and where it still exists we must continue to challenge it. But we can’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. Not every high-school student–of any ethnicity, gender, family background, or socioeconomic class–will find their best future by going to college.  The trades need them; WE need them.

If you can’t get an appointment with a lawyer to draw up your will this week, it can wait till next week. (This is an unrealistic example; there are more than a sufficiency of lawyers out there eager for your legal business!) But if a pipe is broken and you can’t get a plumber, if your power is out and the power company doesn’t have enough electricians, you are, not to put too fine a point on it, SOL. Even if it’s just the cable going out right before your favorite show, or the A/C stopping when it’s 103 F., you are going to suffer if you can’t find a skilled tradesperson quickly.

And workers should have a status that reflects that. “My son the roofer” should be as proudly introduced as “My son the doctor.” High schools should be praised as much for how many students who want to pursue a trade are accepted into trade apprenticeships as for how many who want a degree are accepted into college. Probably they should be praised more for the former, who are almost guaranteed a job at the end of their training, than for the latter, who may join the masses wielding useless degrees in an overcrowded job market!

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