Basic Mechanical Skills Needed Are Being Lost
We talk about the labor shortage and the skills gap in the engineering field often in our blog. It’s a real problem that affects all areas of the HPI industry, not only engineering, and other industries. It’s not just that the workers are entering retirement age or that students are choosing other fields; it starts with a more basic problem. There is a lack of people learning the simple, basic mechanical skills that are needed in everyday life.
Every year many students graduate with degrees in all different aspects of engineering and their theoretical knowledge is satisfactory; but, their real-life practical knowledge is subpar. They may be able to quickly figure out the calculations of an ideal crank motor; but could they actually repair or build one? Most cannot because it’s a skill that is no longer deemed necessary; but is, in actuality, quite practical when it comes to work that has to be done.
Mike Rowe, former host of ‘Dirty Jobs’ and ‘Somebody’s Gotta Do It’, has longed talked about the lack of interest in learning skilled trades these days. In 2014, he testified at a hearing before the House Committee on Natural Resources about opportunities for skilled trade workers and the nationwide skills gap. His overall view was that the skills gap cannot be closed until the country as a whole develops an appreciation for the work being done by skilled trade workers, such as those on the ‘Dirty Jobs’ program.
In his testimony one of the points he made regarded his speaking at a STEM (Science, Technology, Energy and Math) conference while in Washington, DC. He said the lines will be long for people to talk to the astronauts; but, there are no job listings for astronauts. Many of them started off as mechanical engineers and they got their interest in that field from their interest in welding and building things. If you looked up jobs for welders, there are plenty. However, these types of skills are being marginalized.
The skills gap and the labor shortage is not just about job creation, it’s also about workers willing to learn and retrain. In Mike Rowe’s hearing, he mentioned talking to employers in all 50 states and how they all had the same single problem. These employers felt that their biggest challenge was “finding people that are willing to retool, retrain, reboot and learn a useful skill from the ground up”. In other words, workers are missing basic mechanical skills. Yet, not so willing to retool, retrain and learn because the work that needs to be done is not held in high esteem.
These same issues affect current STEM graduates. They have a lack of appreciation for the mechanical skills while thinking someone else can do that part. Until the new workforce is able to really learn the mechanics, this will be a continuing problem as we move forward. This has to change at the most fundamental level. Students need appreciation for ‘how things work’, building from scratch, basic mechanics. The vast majority of the world cannot be put into a computer, hit enter and get the answer.
Have you heard the expression “a good mechanic is hard to find these days” or “a good plumber is not only hard to find; they are expensive”? The skill to design a bridge is abundant. But, the skill to build a bridge has become scarce. There is a reason for this: The nature of hard work is being degraded in our society today. A change is needed here. These skills are needed for everyday life. Trade schools are as important to the future of society as engineering schools. Furthermore, because of the global trends, the trade school may be more important.
S&D Consulting specializes in petrochemical process control engineering and project management. Clients across the United States and as far as New Zealand and Australia rely on our consulting services. Our expertise has helped many refining and petrochemical operations increase plant productivity while minimizing safety issues and unplanned shutdowns.