Will Skilled Hands-On Labor Finally Become More Valuable?

The sands beneath what's scarce and what's over-abundant are shifting.

On a recent visit to the welding shop where my niece's husband works, I asked him if they had enough welders for their workload. His answer surprised me: "If you asked every welding shop in the country if they have enough welders, the answer would be no."

The reasons for this disparity between the economic need and the workforce's skills aren't that complicated. Many of the skilled welders are Baby Boomers who are retiring or nearing retirement, and there aren't enough younger trained welders to meet the need.

Though there appears to be an uptick in the number of young people interested in apprenticing to construction trades, the cultural zeitgeist has largely disdained hands-on, real-world skills in favor of making videos, becoming social-media influencers, joining an investment bank to make bank, working for a tech startup to score a quick million or two in stock options or if no creative way to make it big presents itself, join the cushiest bureaucracy available with lifetime security, or seek out a non-profit doing some virtue-signaling projects to pad your resume.

As for hands-on skills, becoming a chef certainly topped becoming a crane operator, as attaining semi-celebrity has become a core ladder of social mobility. The desirable livelihoods are creative, virtue-signaling, semi-celebrity and perhaps most importantly, clean white-collar (mostly digital) work.

On top of this cultural disdain we can overlay the general surplus of labor globally and the relative scarcity of profitable homes for capital. As I have often mentioned, the twin drivers of wealth for the past 30 years (arguably even longer) have been financialization and globalization, both of which heavily favor capital over labor, with the exception of tech-managerial skills needed to maximize profits in financialized, globalized ventures.

Could all these trends reverse? All trends eventually reverse (the way of the Tao is reversal), and so the question can be phrased: are we reaching the tipping point?

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Disclosures: None.

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Anne Barry 3 months ago Member's comment

Great as always, Charles.