Guest Commentary

Trade skills increasingly proving to be important to future economy

Marcel Wagner Jr. is CEcD of Great River Economic Development Foundation | H-W File Photo
By Marcel Wagner Jr.
Posted: Oct. 7, 2018 12:01 am Updated: Oct. 7, 2018 12:24 am

Every day at Great River Economic Development Foundation, our staff spends a large part of the day working on strategies that will address the shortage of skilled employees to fill over 500 open positions at regional companies. That is a huge concern that is echoed by economic development offices all over the United States. However, there is something that GREDF thinks about that is equally important to address.

The Quincy and Adams County community is experiencing almost $200 million in construction on the new schools, the jail, the ADM project, Kohl Wholesale, Dot Foods, Blessing Hospital, Quincy Medical Group and others.

As I go past the new jail every day on my way to work I see masons, carpenters, steel workers and wonder will we be able to find qualified tradespeople 10 years from now when the bulk of the boomers have retired? And it's not just workers for those major projects, it will be for the average homeowner who needs a carpenter, electrician or plumber. Or how about a handyman to do simple tasks?

Think about the merchandise you shop for in supermarkets: 100 percent of that food gets to the grocery shelves on a truck, shipped from a warehouse that receives those items by truck or sometimes by rail from a farmer or manufacturer. In Quincy and Adams County at this time over 150 driving jobs go unfilled.

When the grocery shelves aren't stocked isn't the time to worry about the need for transportation, distribution and logistics jobs.

Even with the advent of self-driving trucks estimates are those new technologies will move less than 5 percent of the goods to market.

I am a firm believer in lifelong learning and the value of an education, but maybe it is time to encourage kids beginning in the primary grades to consider a career that isn't in front of a computer screen.

There is a perception that without a college education a person won't be successful. Talk to Mike Elbe at John Wood and ask him to describe the financial rewards in the trades, transportation and manufacturing.

We absolutely need college-educated professionals, but there needs to be a balance. A plumber certainly will not replace a surgeon or a carpenter replace an accountant.

The shortage of the services by the trades, manufacturing and transportation/logistics we all take for granted will hit all of our wallets. For example, fewer electricians will drive up the cost of adding that new outlet.

We are a society of instant gratification, and if people are no longer available to make sure simple things like lights go on, toilets flush, the cable works and goods we need to purchase are on the shelves, it's a crisis.

Even in the marketplace of the tradesperson, knowledge is power, but ask yourself can that tradesperson be replaced by an app? We either need to be concerned about these facts or take a class and learn how to install that toilet!