STEM Fairs are Re-engaging Young People in Skilled Labor

If you asked me what I like best about my job, my usual answer is that I really enjoy helping fabricators select equipment that help them do their job more effectively. But another aspect that I’ve really grown to love is talking to young people about working in skilled trades.

Twenty years ago or so, a lot of economists and pundits were saying that manufacturing in the US was eventually going to be a thing of the past and we’d better get used to it. The thinking was that eventually we’d all become accountants and lawyers, and the whole economy would transition to service oriented jobs, rather than manufacturing. All the skilled labor, they said, would transition to countries that could do it much cheaper.

Well they were wrong.

In thirteen years with Koike Aronson, I’ve figured out a few things. First, there’s always going to be a need for skilled labor. Welders, fabricators and other workers need to be precise on a job site and they need the proper training and tools to do so.

Second, there are plenty of very bright people who don’t want to put on a tie and work in an office. Like me, they want to go into a shop and create stuff from scratch, Build things with their hands. They want to carry on the family tradition and do things the way their father and grandfather did them.

Third and most powerful to me, all those eggheads who say that you need a college degree to make something of yourself ignored the fact that machinists, fabricators, welders, plumbers, electricians and other skilled trades have become harder to come by. As a result, someone who works hard in these fields can make a pretty steady cash flow.

In the past year, I’ve attended several STEM fairs (along with our Koike Aronson Ambassador, Angela Wiseman) to help young people understand that learning how to build things is not only fun, but a fulfilling way to spend your time. (If you’re not up on the lingo, STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.)

Those of us that have been around for a few years can compare this to an advanced version of the tech programs that we all grew up with. We should all give credit to those teachers working in the trenches to keep this concept alive. They know, a person who knows how to weld or fabricate can settle in just about any part of North America and have no trouble making a respectable living.  

The most recent STEM fair that Angela and I attended was sponsored by an organization called Dream It Do It Western New York and we had over 1,000 students attend. Not only that, they really followed along with what we were saying and demonstrated a solid understanding of why they wanted to get into technology. I have a feeling that one or two of them may eventually apply to work here at Koike Aronson.

My point in telling you all this is skilled work in fabrication, at least from my perspective, is making a comeback and we should do all we can to encourage it. If you’re considering sponsorship of a STEM fair, do it, because young people need to know there’s room for everyone’s talent in the labor force. And if you need someone to talk at the STEM fair, feel free to reach out to me and I’ll do whatever I can to help.


Shane McMahon

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