Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:36 pm
When I was growing up in Oak Creek, I worked on my family’s apple orchard and dairy farm. It was good work, but it never quite struck me as something I could do for a career.
Going through high school, I didn’t know what I was going to do for a living. This during a time before college was the expected norm. I knew I wanted to enter the workforce. The only question was in what.
Then one day during metals class, I found my calling. It was time for us to learn welding. For the first time, I found something that I truly enjoyed, and not only that, I was pretty darn good at it. I found that I could control the molten metal arc almost immediately and my first welds came out fairly smooth.
I turned this experience in metals class into a successful 20-year career in steel fabrication. Through work experience, I learned everything involved with the industry from shop math to blueprint reading, shearing to metal forming and everything in between. I also used my people skills to work my way into shop management where I learned the business side of industry, along with the manufacturing side.
Now, as a state representative, I see today that the manufacturing industry is hurting. I was always proud to show up every day for work and get a little dirty, because I knew at the end of the day I was producing a product that would help people. Today, the opportunities to enter industry and find a love of shop work are diminishing. Across the state, high school metal and wood classes have been shut down, and this is not from a lack of funding as every year the state increases our spending on education. They are shutting down because of a general societal lack of interest in manufacturing.
Society sends a message to our kids that the only way to be successful is to go to college and earn a four-year degree that will translate into a white collar job. While I agree that it’s very important for a large number of our students to do that, I strongly believe that for many students, entering industry is the right move. Some students aren’t afraid of working hard, getting a little dirty, showing up for work every day and getting paid well for it.
Wisconsin needs a revived commitment to manufacturing, one that encourages students to find their true calling. If that calling is in industry, then by all means students must be allowed to take control of their own destiny and learn the necessary skills for a successful career. I know the workers in Milwaukee and Wisconsin can compete with anyone, anywhere, as long as they are allowed to develop the necessary skills.
Most commentators refer to the Midwest as the Rust Belt when discussing our manufacturing heritage. With a renewed commitment to manufacturing from our high schools, tech schools and business leaders, Wisconsin can lead the way and turn the manufacturing industry around. The so-called "Rust Belt" can be turned into the "Revival Belt," and it can start right here in Milwaukee.