Expert interpretations of the fossil record agree that more than 95 percent of all living things have gone extinct.. Thus, the law: Adapt to changing times or go extinct.
Recently, the American way of life has struggled with one big adaptation and unless "we the people" become acutely aware of our roles in it, our way of life will go the way of the dinosaurs.
This is the call to restore America's manufacturing sector. Too few Americans realize that roughly half of our annual economy is interest paid on borrowed money. In other words, America still boasts the world's largest economy, but almost half of it is a moneylender's house of cards. Besides, the only way to add real wealth to an economy and grow the middle class is to roll up your sleeves and get dirty by farming something, mining something, or making something of value. That is how the several generations of Americans preceding ours built the greatest nation the world has ever seen.
My generation has foolishly watched more than 6 million American manufacturing jobs move overseas just to reap a measly 1 to 2 percent in savings at the cash register on inferior imported goods. Consequently, the label "Made in America" has become as endangered as quality goods.
Former owner of Starr Manufacturing in Vienna, Tom Smith, summed it up, "In the old days everybody (most Americans) got dirty, made things, and then sold them. Even the smartest guys in town (Ford, Edison, Tesla, Wright brothers and Packard brothers) were out on the (plant) floor getting dirty, but today nobody wants to get dirty."
Fortunately, Starr's new owner, Andreas Foerster, is not afraid to get dirty and is arguably one of the smartest guys in the Valley. Recently he had one of his best welders, Marty, teach him the art in case an order gets behind schedule. He explained, "I would never ask someone to do a job that I cannot do." In 2007, when Tom's business needed new life, Andreas and his wife, Dale, risked it all on a chance to become the next generation of American manufacturers. But the Foersters aren't simply trying to save Starr, they are acutely aware that the American way of life is on the line.
Last week Andreas and Dale gave me the opportunity to shadow their workers at Starr through a program they helped initiate, "Educators in the Manufacturing Workplace." I was honored to get dirty alongside a dying breed of American heroes, the "All Starrs" manufacturing team of machinists, cutters, welders, fitters, grinders and engineers. These local workers add real wealth to our national economy every day when they design, build, and sell enormous metal structures with incredibly precise dimensions for the oil, gas, coal and other important industries. What these guys can do with a few dozen tons of steel in an eight-hour work day is almost wizardry.
But several of Starr's most senior craftsmen will reach retirement age in a few years and the teams' junior members are concerned today's youth do not want to adapt and get dirty. Since society takes what they do every day for granted and vocational trade schools have been cut across the country, their fears are warranted. This is where my role, as a local educator, begins.
If America's economic recovery depends on a revival of our manufacturing base, and it clearly does, then our public schools must adapt by producing scores of workers with a can-do troubleshooting attitude who are willing to get dirty to add something of real value to the economy. So next school year I will share what I learned at Starr with my students and my colleagues. Still, adapting must become every American citizen's business.
The good news is we are already familiar with "new" 21st century skills for success because universal laws don't change. To succeed in the 21st century, Americans must be adaptable (problem-solvers) to changing times, and especially by rolling up our sleeves, getting dirty, and adding something - anything - of real value to the national economy in addition to demonstrating basic proficiency in math, reading and writing.
If you currently have no manufacturing skills, there is more good news: TCTC can train you to become a machinist, welder or engineering draftsman in less than a year. These are good jobs with benefits. And in the words of a machinist at Starr, Craig Candioti, the work is deeply satisfying. "I may get a little dirty, but at the end of the day I know I put in an honest day's work, I got paid a good wage, and I can feel good about what I've accomplished."
So let's know our roles and adapt, America. Nothing less than our way of life is counting on you to get dirty.
E-mail Herman at firstname.lastname@example.org