Along with Mike Rowe, one of the few celebrities promoting American manufacturing and blue collar careers is John Ratzenberger, best known to TV viewers as Cliff Clavin from “Cheers”, still one of the funniest shows ever.
He was recently named to serve on a U.S. Department of Labor Task Force on Apprenticeship Expansion. His show, “Made in America,” ran for five seasons, and would take viewers through the manufacturing process of everyday items.
Ratzenberger was a guest speaker at the recent Mechanical Service Contractors of America conference in Boca Raton, Fla. His message was a lament of the fact that kids today don't know how to build things, and that the American blue collar workforce is fast disappearing.
“Today, people who graduate from high school can’t even read a ruler,” he moaned. Growing up, “We never had repairmen come to the house. If you didn’t know how to do it, or your father or uncle, then the guy down the street did. Somebody knew how to do it. I didn’t realize how fortunate I was to grow up in an atmosphere where everybody was capable. Everybody knew how to do something.
“Manufacturing and the use of tools is the backbone of America,” Ratzenberger said. That’s who we are in America. We make things happen.”
After his son graduated from college and was teaching school, he called to tell John that he wanted to be a plumber.
“I was so proud, because I had told my children to get a skill, something nobody can take away from you. I lived in Europe for 10 years and worked as a carpenter. If you own a skill you can find a job anywhere on the planet.”
“Before the 1960s, we were a culture that honored success. Now, we honor failure. So if you want to become a plumber, carpenter or electrician, more than likely the other kids in school will make fun of you. Because anytime we see a movie or TV show with a blue collar worker, they’re depicted as a dope, or as someone who’s trying to rip somebody off.”
Career building, he said is bipartisan, because “both Democrats and Republicans have to drive over the same bridge everyday. They both need people to repair it or to build another bridge.”
Ratzenberger recently asked a West Point Commodore where the best officers come from. “Farms,” was the reply. And it’s the same for inventors. Thomas Edison’s headmaster told his mother that the young genius was uneducatable. He liked to hang around boat yards. He observed. Watched what they did. That’s how he became the great Thomas Edison.
As a small effort towards solving this problem, Ratzenberger said parents today have to expose their children to various challenges and get out of their way. Let them build a clubhouse, or take apart a radio.
“They need to figure stuff out for themselves. Get dirty. Have that experience of failing and succeeding, of using a tool, and falling in love with tools.”
Theorists did not build American civilization, Ratzenberger said. He said that during a recent speech to an audience of software manufacturers, he said after the hurricane that destroyed Puerto Rico, the greatest need was for carpenters and plumbers, people who know how to do things.
Germany he said, values the skilled population more than it values doctors. So tell your kids to become plumbers, carpenters, and yes, HVAC technicians.
America needs them, parents. Please help.