Can the Maker Movement Help Close Our Skills Gap?

It’s suddenly cool again to work with your hands, but that doesn’t mean we have enough skilled tradesmen. Give us a second, and we’ll explain.

As this nice Forbes piece by Nicholas Wyman explains, “Just a few decades ago, our public education system provided ample opportunities for young people to learn about careers in manufacturing and other vocational trades. Yet, today, high-schoolers hear barely a whisper about the many doors that the vocational education path can open. The ‘college-for-everyone’ mentality has pushed awareness of other possible career paths to the margins.”

Maybe it’s that word… vocational. Not so cool.

In any event, we are not attracting enough young people into skilled trades. That’s a real problem, so much so that the PBS TV program This Old House just announced its Generation Next campaign “to close the skills gap by encouraging young people to master the vocational trades that built this country.”

Meanwhile, over the past decade, the maker movement has taken off. Here’s how Adweek describes it, “The maker movement is the umbrella term for independent inventors, designers and tinkerers. A convergence of computer hackers and traditional artisans, the niche is established enough to have its own magazine, Make, as well as hands-on Maker Faires that are catnip for DIYers who used to toil in solitude.”

In one town of 25,000 people we know, the local library’s Maker Faire attracted 10,000 attendees.

Makers are basically people who are rediscovering the satisfaction of building something with their own hands. Some are college-educated, others are not. It doesn’t really make a difference… all that matters is whether you choose to pursue a project.

When you think about this, these are two “movements” that use very similar skills and mindsets. One is theoretically declining – partially because no one wants to fund “vocational” training anymore – and one is exploding.

We think the difference is little more than the words you choose to use. People yearn to build stuff with their own hands, and thus they benefit from programs that help them acquire and refine their skills. We need more of these programs, not less.

If you are involved in a vocational training program, we urge you to take a closer look at the Maker movement. It may be that by adopting some of their language and programs, that you can generate much more excitement – and funding – for your work.

If you are a young person who loves Maker Faires, it might make sense to step back for a minute and think about professions that allow you to use these same skills. We suspect you’ll find that they are the skilled trades.

Maker Movement – the umbrella term for independent inventors, designers and tinkerers.

A convergence of computer hackers and traditional artisans…

– Adweek

Image Credit: Amy O’Leary/The New York Times

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