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Low tech or vo-tech?

By Staff
Craig Ziemba is a pilot who lives in Meridian.
July 7, 2002
Much has been said recently about the need for Mississippians to pursue higher education in order to build a credible work force to bring our state out of the economic backwater.
Obviously an educated populace is helpful in attracting new industry, but I can't help but wonder if many more would benefit from vocational training instead of traditional two and four-year college programs. In our worthwhile push for higher learning, we sometimes ignore the importance of the trades that keep our country moving.
When I was in high school, students with good grades were encouraged to go to college while those with mediocre grades were advised to pursue vocational training. There was a stigma attached to learning a trade as if working with your hands is not respectable. Society's implication that white-collar work is professional while blue-collar work is not needs to change.
The pilot (glorified heavy machinery operator) who flies the plane is respected as a professional while the technician who keeps the engines running is "just a mechanic." The banker who wrote my mortgage is considered professional while the carpenter who literally built the house is not. Why is that? Something's wrong with our perspective.
Carpentry is a highly skilled trade that takes years of hard work to master. If you don't think so, try putting up crown moulding or hanging a door. Quite a few college graduates, including the one I shaved this morning, have embarrassed ourselves attempting skills that we assumed were simple.
When a pipe bursts at 2 a.m., I'd gladly trade that four-hours of astronomy I took for four hours of shop.
Over the years I've gained a great deal of respect for men and women who are skilled at doing something really worthwhile with their hands. Some of the smartest people I know never went to college but have so much common sense that they put me to shame. The old adage, "Everybody is ignorant, just about different things," could just as well be reversed, "Everybody is intelligent, just about different things."
I've had quite a few friends who weren't book smart but were really talented working with their hands. Their well-intentioned parents pressured them to go to college to become a "professional," meaning get a job indoors wearing a suit. Most of them majored in business or some other low-tech field that may not have interested them just because they were able to pass. Many of them sit behind a desk pushing paper today because society demands it, but they'd really rather be fixing or building something.
On the flip side, two of the most financially successful friends I have never went to college. One is an auto mechanic and the other digs septic tanks. Both became very skilled at their trades and started their own businesses.
Today they run profitable companies and make much more money than they would have as "professionals." By finding something they enjoy doing and becoming good at it, they became professionals in the truest sense of the word.
In an ideal world, it would be great if everyone could receive a classic university education in liberal arts and science to broaden their minds before buckling down to study the technical vocation of their choice.
Let's face it, though, knowing the difference between rococo and impressionist schools of art just doesn't put food on the table.
While we encourage our young people to continue education, it's important that we recognize and respect God-given talents whether they are in medicine, teaching, plumbing or construction. After all, the Man who changed the course of history was a carpenter.