HOT TECHNOLOGY = COOL JOBS: An Advocate's Fight to Increase the Number of Students Entering Maintenance Technician Jobs

i-e69ff261d4f6e2b5de452ce5291f499e-Skill TV Logo.gifWhat is your impression of these jobs?

--Air Conditioning Technician

Despite the consummate skill and training that these and similar maintenance professions require today, they often still bear the unfortunate stigma in the public's eye of being menial "grease monkey" jobs -- occupations that (unlike many white collar four-year college professions) require workers to fix things and get their hands dirty.

i-7710c80605b03d427fbf9cf84476c531-Joel Leonard Photo (1).jpgTherein lies both the challenge and mission of Joel Leonard, a Skill TV producer and host and self-proclaimed maintenance evangelist, as he warns America of the "Maintenance Crisis" that has enveloped the national landscape -- a situation that is leaving our industries and workplaces without nearly enough maintenance technicians to replace the Baby Boomer generation workers in such jobs as they retire.

Joel is fervently spreading the word through talks, presentations, websites, articles -- even a poignant song he penned -- that maintenance technician jobs are not only well-paying and vital to the economy, but in demand in virtually every industry. These positions are also highly technical, requiring workers to be proficient in such science and engineering skills as vibration analysis, infrared thermography, ultrasonic leak detection and other predictive maintenance technologies to make sure that machines operate safely and efficiently.

"In addition," says Joel, "these technicians must possess extensive communication skills in order to be able to convey complex technical information to other departments and create new maintenance practices to support high technical initiatives in such areas as mechanical and electrical systems, and bio and nano technology." He adds with a wry smile: "So as you can see, maintenance technicians are no longer just 'grease monkeys' performing menial tasks."

What do you think can be done to attract more students to maintenance fields?

Read more about Joel here.

Watch this UNC-TV interview with Joel about what he is doing to address the maintenance crises.

And here's Joel on Skill TV interviewing an aviation maintenance executive about the labor shortage & ongoing battle to find skilled technicians.

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A few years ago, I realized that I had become tired of working in IT and investigated the feasibility of re-training in one of these professions.

I was discouraged, not by the possibility of getting my hands dirty, but by (what I perceive, anyway) an extremely strong bias against all but the very young entering these professions. I was only in my mid to late 30's, but I felt shut out from trades training programs that were geared toward people in their late teens and early '20s at the oldest.

I can think, then, of a couple of things that would attract more students to these fields:

(1) Target people who are ready to switch careers, including people who are currently in white-collar fields. We aren't all afraid of getting dirty, and some of us are actually fairly intelligent and capable of learning new skills and adapting to different work schedules.

(2) Accept that not everyone entering these fields wants or needs to retire a master electrician, mechanic, welder, etc. with 50 years' experience. Surely there is a place for someone who is willing to enter the field with sufficient skills to follow instructions and work competently for 20 years before retiring or moving on to something else.

I agree about the age bias. I have a friend who worked in the aviation and rocketry field for years, and once the major jobs dried up and he was laid off, he went to an aviation tech school to get his license. He has been turned away again and again because of his age - over forty.

By Frank Anderson (not verified) on 22 Aug 2011 #permalink

I worked as an industrial electrician for at a GM assembly plant working on robotics and industrial automation. I am now working in the same field in a much smaller scale facility in the pharmaceutical industry.
I have an associates and a bachelors degree in addition to having served a 4 year apprenticeship and going through years of specialized training on specific equipment and control systems. Years ago, Lester Thurow, a professor of economics and former dean of MIT's Sloan School of Management wrote a book comparing the economies of the US with Japan and the major European countries. He noted that in Germany and Japan, tradespeople are seen on a par with white collar professionals. It is recognized that their level of training and expertise, their value to businesses and the economy, and their earnings potential were all on a par with many white collar professional jobs. In the US, then as now, tradespeople are seen as low level workers. It is a situation that is in need of change......and who knew you could be a maintenance evangelist-- I may have a new career path!

Thanks for following our blog and for your insightful comments!

good science blogs post. I worked as an industrial electrician for at a GM assembly plant working on robotics and industrial automation. I am now working in the same field in a much smaller scale facility in the pharmaceutical industry.