A Sustainable Workforce Starts With You

Who Has Basic Home-Repair Skills These Days?

The decline of the way Americans value skilled labor, which we've chronicled extensively on Construction Citizen, can be seen in different ways all around us.

Louis Uchitelle makes the point brilliantly in a New York Times article in which he describes how hardware stores are having to find ways to cater to people who don't know how to “do it themselves”, so to speak.  Even signs adorning the walls and aisles at a Home Depot serve as instructions for simple things like how to fix a faucet or replace light bulbs.

A question often asked by citizens and politicians alike: “Why don't we make anything in America anymore?”

Uchitelle argues that the decline in American craftsmanship runs parallel to that of our manufacturing sector. He points out that in the 1950s, manufacturing accounted for 28 percent of GDP (gross domestic product).  That has now fallen to 12 percent.  The truth is, he says, that people are steering their kids away from skilled trades and instead hoping they'll all end up behind a desk somewhere.  From the article:

“By last year, Wall Street traders, bankers and those who deal in real estate generated 21 percent of the national income, double their share in the 1950s.  And Warren E. Buffett, the amiable financier, became a homespun folk hero, without the tools and overalls.”

The article goes on to quote Richard T. Curtin, director of the Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan Surveys of Consumers:

“Young people grow up without developing the skills to fix things around the house.  They know about computers, of course, but they don’t know how to build them.”

The economic shifts in the United States over the last 5 years or so have also caused another interesting pattern: more and more people are cash-strapped, and when it comes to fixing things around their homes, they'd like to do it themselves but don't know how.  So, stores like Home Depot are offering classes on how to do simple home repairs.  Uchitelle interviewed a manager at a Home Depot, Sol Axelrod, who explained that “the teachers are store employees, many of them older and semiretired from a skilled trade, or laid off.”  Axelrod further stated:

“Our customers may not be building cabinets or outdoor decks – we try to do that for them – but some are trying to build up skill so they can do more for themselves in these hard times.”

Your thoughts are welcome in the comments.


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