Who Is Going to Fill Their Shoes?

By: Richard Nickel

Team of builders working together

George Jones asked a great question, “Who is going to fill their shoes?” With each passing day, the bridge builders that came before us are passing away. There is so much we can learn from them, but we are often too proud to ask questions and listen. Once they are gone, their hard-earned knowledge goes with them. Admittedly, the world is different now. Today we deal with more regulations and softer people, but have the luxury of technology and almost limitless equipment. The ones that came before us had to depend on ingenuity. In many cases, if they needed something, they had to invent it, but they were not burdened by overbearing regulations. As we adapt to the world we live in today, we have to remember that there are many things we can learn from the ones that came before us.

Previous generations were proud to be builders. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, the message changed to be that people with college degrees and office jobs were better than those who build. We are starting to see a shift in perception, as more people realize that a career in construction can earn you a higher income with no student debt than what a college degree can provide. All it takes is effort and a willingness to learn. If a high school graduate who chooses to go straight to work would treat the first four years as their form of higher education, they not only get paid well to learn on the job, but they’ll also earn more four years later than their peers who graduate with a diploma and debt. They will be on a trajectory to become high earners.

The generations before us were also proud to work. A scary statistic that does not get talked about much is workforce participation. This is the percentage of working-age people who actually get up and go to work. The workforce participation rate climbed steadily from below 60% in the ‘60s to around 67% in the ‘90s, but it’s trended downward since the early 2000s to its current rate of about 62%.

Currently, South Carolina’s workforce participation rate is a rather dismal 59.4%, which means that over 40% of the working-age population in SC chooses not to work. The politicians like to talk about unemployment being at an all-time low, but that number is artificial because it does not count the large segment of the population that doesn’t contribute to society.

The message has to change to one that places value in work, and expects everyone to do their part. There are amazing opportunities for anybody who wants a career in highway construction, and it’s a great sign to see our society starting to place a high value on a construction career again.

“Who is going to fill their shoes?” Here’s hoping the current generation steps up to the plate.

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