Reader Sanity Check: Erosion of the Skilled Trades?

Generalizing from one anecdote is always fraught, but this one is a doozy. The question is whether this sighing is simply a facet of wildly overpriced housing in San Francisco intersecting with the labor market, or whether is it a harbinger of what you will be seeing in the US, or at least big and biggish cities, in not too long. Remember that marketers have long claimed that trends start in California and then spread to the rest of the US.

A fellow class traitor called recently. He was the first in his family to graduate from college (Harvard) and he’s since done well for himself, managing among other things to buy a Victorian house in San Francisco when they were merely sort of costly. I lamented to him what a drag it was being responsible for a house, recounting my latest tale of woe, which is discovering that the HVAC company with which my mother had had a premium maintenance contract had massively punted, to the degree that we have damage in other systems in the house (yours truly in pondering hard how to pin the liability tail on this particular donkey).

This is a rough reconstruction of his response:

I have a lot of sympathy for people who have things like that happen to them. The reason I have spent so much time developing home handyman/maintenance skills and do as much as I can myself is that it’s gotten almost impossibly hard to find someone who will do the work properly. In a lot of cases, cutting corners won’t show up for a long time.

Here it’s become hard to hire workmen who don’t have a meth habit.1 I just hired someone to paint a room.2 She begged me to pay her half before the job was done. She then disappeared for four hours for a drug buy and to get high.

When I turn 70, I could hire myself out as a skilled handyman for $500 an hour. People here would pay that to get someone they knew would perform.

Mind you, we aren’t talking about laying granite counters or marbleizing walls or setting fancy pool tiles. This is old fashioned bread and butter construction and infrastructure maintenance work allegedly eroding from the bottom.

The reason to think this observation from the West Coast might indeed be occurring on a broader is the every-rising costs of technical education. There is evidenc of a shortage among skilled workers. From Industrial Skilled Trades in February:

The skilled trades division of PeopleReady (PeopleReady Skilled Trades) found that the amount of skilled trade jobs is far outpacing the supply of qualified workers to fill them. There were 388,345 jobs posted for skilled trades-related workers between May and June of last year, a 50% increase from pre-pandemic levels. The more sobering data here is that most positions remained unfilled for an average of 24 days.

They based their numbers on the growth in demand over a month and the length of time that jobs typically remain unfilled:

Concrete masons top the list with 904% growth in demand compared to pre-pandemic numbers.
Electricians have risen 130%.
Plumbers are up 129%.
And carpenters are up 121%.

PeopleReady also found that apprentice-level or helper-level type of work is the most impacted.

And remember, it takes a very long period of apprentice work in many states to become licensed. In Alabama, all HVAC technicians must be licensed (no working under the license of a genera contractor or company owner). Here the requirements are:

Get approval from the Alabama licensing board to sit for the exam.
Be registered as an HVAC apprentice.
Complete a minimum of 3,000 hours of HVAC coursework.
Graduate from an approved Alabama HVAC program.
Be at least 18 years old with a high school diploma or GED.

Let’s play this out a bit. What if in five years some (many?) cities are short of skilled tradesmen? What happens if you have to wait for a plumber or an electrician to come out? Remember broken or leaky pipes can do serious damage quickly, and some electrical faults are dangerous.

There’s also the question of a fall in quality of work. In my case, it may simply be a manifestation of the general tendency to see women, particularly older women, as marks. The other “systems problems” we are having may also be in part due shoddy work on a five figure upgrade I paid for less than a year ago. Some of my construction-knowledgable contacts are finding it not credible that the amount of damage attributed to the HVAC faults could have happened that quickly. So I am also having to see if too much blame is being dumped on the HVAC contractor (who to be clear totally ignored basic problem over the entire course of their maintenance contract).

In the long run, these shortages will become Revenge of the Deplorables. As my San Francisco contact suggests, well trained tradesmen who develop a reputation for doing good work will likely in not all that long to be able to command top dollar. But if even that shift still fails to attract more young people to go into these professions, we’ll also wind up with more rotting infrastructure since some won’t be able to afford the cost of timely maintenance.


1 My interlocutor is likely behind the times on the controlled substance of choice.

2 Earlier in the conversation, he’d explained how he and his wife had been traveling a ton for work, so I assumed this was the reason for doing something so out of character for him as have someone else do plaster work and paint.

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  1. dougie

    I call tell you this from personal experience, owning a (statistically speaking) large auto repair shop. My inability to hire quality mid-level automotive technicians, much less “A” level talent, has stunted business growth to a degree this year. Here is my possible solution. I am working with my HR consultant and healthcare advisor to find options for quality healthcare plans where I pay 100% as opposed to the 50% we currently pay. “Real” insurance, with manageable deductibles and copays that people can afford to use. It’s probably a fools errand, but I think it will garner some attention, and higher quality talent. On paper, the increased revenue might offset the 6 figure cost. We shall see.

    1. Kurtismayfield

      Just out of curiosity, how much education and training does it take to get to the “Mid level automotive technician”? And how much of it does the employee have to front?

      If it is the consequences of decades of businesses outsourcing training costs to labor, I wouldn’t be surprised.

      1. dougie

        Community college automotive programs insure that there is a basic level of knowledge, but they are all touting the 2 year associates degree program which is a cash grab. I have never known any automotive tech to go back to college to pursue a 4 year degree, unless he was not suited to the profession. They can be trained in a year, I was. The rest is aptitude and experience.

        Our coaching group with 850 members representing 1300 shops is in the process of developing a curriculum to train our own apprentices. We are trying( in our own small way) to address the issues of the old guys retiring at a 2-1 rate to new entries to our profession.

        To directly answer your specific question, IMO it takes 3-5 years to become a mid level journeyman technician. In our state, they can join a certified apprenticeship program (with the 2 years community college program), and they can get Pell Grants, etc. while they work in a shop half a day. Our apprentice that had been in that program quit it after a year, and went to work full time with us, stating he learned more in an hour on the job than a week at CC.

        The biggest expense can be the hand tools needed, but they can be built up over a few years. If they show promise, I give them a tool allowance to help.

        1. Kurtismayfield

          Thank you for your response. That does not sound like a huge hurdle for people, as like you said your on the job employee training is better than the courses. I worked at a vocational program for high school, and we found only small percentages of the kids were going into the fields that they studied. The cultural pressure to go to 4 year is very large no matter where you go.

          1. dougie

            I failed to mention that there are more expensive ways to get training. UTI, Universal Technical Institute training is a for profit training outfit that Forbes estimates costs in the $50k range, for tuition and living costs for their 1 year program. They usually get snapped up by the dealers pretty quickly. These days, the dealers will hire just about anyone who can fog a mirror. They have a high churn rate.

      2. Todd

        Cars are hideously complicated these days due to environmental rules, enhanced safety features and luxury built in to everything. No longer an auto mechanic, but a computer programer, reader of complex instructions, often written in poorly translated Chinese, the one use of parts, plastic snap panels, instead of bolts etc.
        Also, the flood of relatively mechanically skilled immigrants took away the bottom rungs that auto mechanics once worked their way up. These guys cannot function on complicated English transactions, either with customers, or parts manuals.

  2. PlutoniumKun

    I can recall as a teenager spending time in New York in the 1990’s to make some money being casually told by my employer (a building manager) at the time that I was stupid to go to college, a plumber earns far more money. I laughed, and then he told me how much per hour the plumbers in this building were getting. I stopped laughing. I was even more surprised when one of the painters in the building told me he was a math teacher – this was his summer job to make ends meet.

    Much of these problems arise from the success of the construction industry in breaking the power of the trade specific unions and guilds. Its hard to emphasise just how much the industry has focused on ensuring that its core design and management staff have over all details of construction, and this is specifically to ensure that no one trade (or group of trades) can force a construction site to a halt. As far as possible now nearly all construction sites are operated by a crew of fairly well paid full time employees with as many low paid (usually immigrant workers doing de-skilled workers as possible. This dynamic can be seen from the US to Europe to Korea and pretty much anywhere else. Even the de-skilled workers are being pushed down. An unskilled Polish construction guy in London now earns less per hour than me and my student friends did when I did summer construction work in London in 1989. Significantly less.

    Immigration is the key to how this works. Construction is international, so big companies can simply bring in crews of skilled workers to do what needs to be done on a sub contract basis, then send them home when its finished. They have no incentive whatever to develop skills domestically. Even the IT industry has a vested interest in having lots of coders on call. This doesn’t apply to construction. So nobody cries halt when one of the most important industries in the world is deskilled.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I don’t know where you got the idea that contracting licenses are permissive. Anyone doing any kind of job, even residential, requires a building permit. That requires a certain level of insurance and the insurer requires licenses and/or a certain level of professional experience. This was true even for me to have a new roof put on, not exactly the most skilled level of skilled trades. I in turn would have trouble with my home insurance if I had any serious work done out of compliance with local codes and requirments.

      As indicated, even in labor-hostile Alabama, HVAC licensing is actually more demanding than in California, where unlicensed HVAC technicians can work under a licensed HVAC contractor.

      Oddly, New York is one of the very few states that does not require plumbers to be licensed. The others are Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, and Wyoming.

      Every state requires electricians to be licensed, and the requirements are generally stringent, see here for gory details:

      1. PlutoniumKun

        Sorry, I didn’t explain myself well. It is of course true that licensing laws are strict for the most part. But in the construction industry it is major construction that supplies the baseline workers that feed into the supply. Most skilled workers and engineers and architects started out working on major developments and then gradually branched out into smaller companies and on their own. When this source of employment is reduced, then licensing rules become a form of restriction, not a guarantee of quality. You end up with a shrinking pool of skilled labour.

        I can’t speak of the US experience, but the issue of liability tends to move ‘upward’ in the skillset. The insurance companies want the architect or senior engineer to sign off on a project, not the electrician or bricklayer. This empowers the senior designer or construction manager, but doesn’t help the skilled artisans, to use an older term. You end up with a construction site with one fully licensed and insured electrician who runs a gang of a dozen semi-skilled guys. He checks the work and signs it off. Contrast to half a century or so when the dozen guys would have been 6 qualified electricians and 6 apprentices. Now its one electrician and 11 others.

        1. ambrit

          I must agree with you as to the slow but steady “crapification” of licensing requirements. The same holds with plumbing, at least here in the North American Deep South adjacent to Alabama. (I had an Alabama Journeyman plumbing license for several years.) Of note is that plumbing licenses, and, I believe electrician licenses come in two flavours: Journeyman and Master. Journeymen (and increasingly women too,) are licensed to actually do the work. Only Masters are allowed to “pull” permits. That is where, usually, the insurance requirements ‘bite.’ Journeymen can usually do ‘small’ jobs, such as some repairs, but jobs requiring permits call for a Master’s card.
          This is also a case where there is a vast ‘underground’ ecosystem at play. Many people, being saavy initially or having been bitten once by rapacious contractors before, search out “informal” contractors. Here is where the dreaded “word of mouth” comes into it’s own.
          The expansion of the number of unlicensed workers allowed to be ‘under’ a licensed person has been, from my direct experience, a result of the diminishing number of licensed workers in relation to the volume of work available. Secondly, it is to be noted that the drop in licensed workers is related to the general drop in the wage scales offered by the contractors. Here is a case where the old Miami phrase, “F— this job! Get a Haitian!” comes into effect. [Yours truly has heard this said on jobs down in Miami back at the turn of the century.]
          Per the above, in general, when the MBAs get a hold of a construction company, the quality of the work drops as a function of time. The office droids focus on their Fell Gods, such as “Shareholder Equity” and “Quarterly Earnings” to the exclusion of all else. As in much else, the lowest hanging ‘shrink’ fruit is labour costs. Wages may not actually shrink, but entry level wages drop and thus discourage new workers from entering the field. A vicious cycle has been established.
          A similar process to the above also afflicts the Union sphere of construction. Once the “Upper Level” Union slots begin to be filled by “professional” managers, the working conditions begin to degrade.
          Well, that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

        2. Adam1

          This type of problem exists all over the US. In the early 2000’s when I was working for a consulting firm we were hired by a local engineering manufactures association in Central NY. They were mostly mid-sized firms but they were dying for mid-level engineers. The story they told was that hiring engineers wasn’t a problem in the past… big employers like GM and GE hired hundreds of kids right out of college every year. In a couple years some of those kids who now had more skill from a few years of work would move on to other places and other firms like these smaller engineering and manufacturing firms. By the late 90’s in CNY all the big firms had closed up and off-shored jobs meaning the pool of young mid-level engineers was gone and these firms didn’t have to scale to be hiring fresh college kids to train

      2. Harry

        I always prefer the work I get done to be permitted. All sorts of very good reasons why one should prefer it. Do you really want unpermitted electrical work? What would happen to your insurance in the event of a fire? But when I talk to my preferred plumber (its very important to build a relationship if you want to get your jobs prioritized) most of the plumbers dislike permitted work. It adds an extra 2-3 hours for any job (cos the inspector has to come out to meet the plumber/electrician). The other problem is that quite often one can accidentally open a can of worms. Old buildings have many out of code problems.

        My plumber tells me the biggest problem for him is finding cheap kids with enough skills that he can send to do jobs. Yes you can find kids from vocational schools. But they dont last. Plumbing involves a lot of heavy lifting, and old plumbers have bad backs, and bad knees. The same is true for electricians. It doesnt take the kids very long to figure out quite how hard the work is.

        This is why I have no problem paying top dollar for the work I do now. Generally I have found attempts to save money have cost me money. And the hope is that when I need someone to do me a favor I will get a call back.

        1. Arul

          Good for you, but I imagine that people with less money to spare, when faced with an expensive (and usually unexpected) repair bill would look for cheapest way to do it. Permitted work means a bit more paperwork and everything has to be done by the book. It reduces risks in the long run, but people tend to focus on the immediate, which doesn’t really help in this situation.

        2. scott s.

          Here in Honolulu, getting a permit for residential is a min of 6 months, and for something like a home reno expect 2-3 years. So of course we have problems with bribing permit examiners. You get a lot of unpermitted work because people can’t wait forever to get something done.

          Only the govt can afford union construction here. That’s why our 4 billion rail project is now 12 billion and rising.

      3. chris

        And remember any licensing requirements for HVAC are only part of the professional details they need to manage. They need to keep training on new systems. They need to maintain an EPA part 608 license so they can purchase and handle refrigerant. They need to calibrate their tools and gages. There’s a reason it’s expensive to hire these people.

      4. S Haust

        “require plumbers to be licensed”

        PA licenses plumbers on a county basis. Consequently, plumbing work in Allegheny County
        is superb, while work in adjoining Butler County is often questionable.
        In fact, some plumbers and “others who do plumbing” systematically avoid jobs in Allegheny

        As an example of the situation, some 20 years ago, to add a shower to a small basement
        powder room, I had hired a contractor (licensed) who did not tell me that he was not a
        licensed plumber. The concrete slab had to be opened to join with the existing drainage.
        This contractor joined up the new drain by using what he called a “backwards Y”. By the
        time I became suspicious, most of the “work” was done. But, in the end, he was fined
        over $300 and had an adverse notation added to his contractor’s license. In addition,
        he had to remove all the “work” he had done. This included breaking up and removing
        all the new concrete. He then had to hire a licensed plumber to re-do the drainage
        and he had to add and finish a new repair to the concrete slab.

        A mile north of here, in Butler Co., this would not have happened.

        Electrician regulation is between beeing much less stringent and non-existent.

        Butler Co. also has lots of cheap-o subdivisions.

      5. russell1200

        There is licensing, and their is certification. The wording used is often intermixed. A license allows you to do a certain type of business. You typically can have thousands working under one license. Certification is a designation of skill. In many States it requires a certain number of certified people on the job site. For example, there would be a requirement for 1 journeyman for every two apprentices. And a master electrician overseeing the entire project.

        Your Southern States do have licensing provisions, but they rarely have much of the way in of real certification requirements.

        As to the other dynamic, in the US you had a building boom in the era. Not surprisingly, in a time of low unemployment companies hired variously documented peoples from other places to fill the void. This is one of the factors as to why construction/blue collar wages stayed flat for so long. Immigrants didn’t decrease wages, they just suppressed increases.

        The problem comes in with the extreme boom and bust cycles we have had. If you are from Mexico, and you come to the US legally, you will learn the language and trade you are in just like anyone ambitious enough to travel to a new country would. You will get to be pretty good at what you do. But you won’t get quite long enough of a stretch (unless maybe you started with the 1st wave) to get established before there is a construction collapse.

        Maybe you stick it out. But if employment conditions are no better in the US than at home, you are more likely to head back, and won’t be as likely to be around with your skill set when construction takes back off again. The fact that construction wages stayed flat for so long, particularly in booming areas like the Southeast, means that there isn’t much of a premium on those skills in any case.

        You can even see this in the middle ranks of construction like estimators, project managers, field superintendents. There are big age gaps in the work force. The early boomers had a long run to get established, and had been in it long enough to have enough premium to come back after a bust. They also typically didn’t have college degrees, so making a switch to an equal position somewhere else was daunting.

        The groups behind them are often pretty thin. They are the group that often have a college degree. But that same college degree also gives them flexibility to shift to something else (nursing was a big competitor for a while there) during the long downturns.

      6. Carla

        Yves, we have just been through a major renovation project on our 1915 house. Permits ($500 and up each, paid for by us) were pulled by the General Contractor, Electrician, Plumbing Company and HVAC Contractor. In my NE Ohio town, the Building Dept has been outsourced to SAFEbuilt, a corporation based in Colorado. I can tell you that the “inspections” were a joke. The inspectors came and chatted with the contractors for a few minutes, signed off on each job, and split.

        Building inspections may always have been a rip-off, at least in Ohio, but in the past, the fees went into the municipality’s coffers. Now 2/3rds of the revenue goes to a private corporation. And guess what? Permit fees have gone up!

        I have a friend who’s a private inspection consultant and has been an expert witness in many court cases. He came over to look at our job before the drywall went in, and said all the subs knew their stuff, and were doing an excellent job. They did work for reputable companies.

        The finish carpentry was not good, so we’ve hired another carpenter to rectify some of those problems, but the biggest single problem we have had is getting a decent painter, which seems to be impossible in this area. We’ve had two disasters, and are trying to hire a third painter to clean up the messes left by the first two. Painting, of all damned things. Certainly not highly skilled work, but it does require patience and attention to detail — two qualities not easy to find today.

        Wrt to helper or apprentice level work: our contractor’s carpenter had an excellent helper who for various reasons currently lacks a driver’s license (nothing that can’t be rectified). Since he lives out in the country, this is a major problem (he happened to live near that carpenter, who picked him up every day). The carpenter was retiring after our job, and my contractor wanted to hold on to his helper, so he told the helper he would employ him and buy him a used car if he would overcome the bureaucratic hassles and get his driver’s license. No dice.

          1. skippy

            Painting back in the old days was seen as one of the highest manual arts skilled trades. Understanding of all the materials to be painted, all the different systems of preparation, systems of application, levels of finish, lighting and how it effects ascetics, chemistry of the products used, and the environmental conditions during the whole process.

            Today I am using a conventional Devilbiss air cap pressure pot gun to spray stair balustrades, only painter I know of that does that around here. Off to work ….

            1. caucus99percenter

              My former landlord in Germany was a third-generation master painter (Malermeister). Both his son and daughter completed their craft guild education and earned master’s certificates (Meisterbriefe). The son as fourth-generation master craftsman then formally took over the family business.

              The German trade guilds are in a constant political struggle to defend their turf against neoliberals European and domestic, for whom “free trade in services” means anyone — in particular, migrants and temporary laborers from other countries — even if lacking any formal credentials, must be allowed to compete with German guild-certified professionals.

              “Existing professional standards and certification requirements discriminate against foreign workers and constitute barriers to trade. Because markets, craftsmanship as Germans have known it needs to die.”

            1. skippy

              OK YS back from work and can add to this topic.

              A good painter, especially a master painter has to have the knowledge of all the other trades that effect the work – carpenters, drywall, plaster, etc. I myself started out as a carpenter between degree jobs working on architectural homes in L.A. The bloke I worked for did foundation up and one would be doing all kinds of trades during the build.

              So then I got into a niche business of prepping and coating concrete, warehouse floors and civic pools. After moving to Oz I started doing industrial/civil coatings for structural steel etc, ran blast/coatings sheds for Transfield and then Bechtel. Between big jobs I would pop down to C/RE and now here I am primarly working on big 100+ year old Queenslanders, post wars and some prime modern stuff.

              So here is the thing with painting you have to understand light as much as or more than a plasterer [200 pg book on all the dynamic of that imo] and then all the products and the systems used to apply it. Pastering has 3 levels 3,4,5, with 3 being basic and 5 is full plaster on all walls and laser leveled or hit with spot lights in the dark to pick up imperfections. Most of my work is repaints so half the battle is to sand all the bad away, tape and plaster bad cracks and plaster fill imperfections that are in the critical area of eyeball to wall up and down 600mm or any thing that smacks you in the eye. Lighting changes all day so you have to keep scanning all the time to pick up stuff.

              Next is tool use, it takes thousands of brush, roller, spray gun hours to perfect your technique. Just how much paint to put on a brush and spread it and lay it off so it does not look like someone put it on with a rake, how to hold a roller pole correctly, load it up, stretch it out and lay it off so the finish is like egg shell, airless or conventional gun control so your getting it on the surface in an even coating and not all over the place or getting orange peel, curtains, and runs. Then through all this you have all the dry times from plaster to coatings and need to manage all that for job flow/productivity.

              Put it this way YS coming back to the trades about 5 years ago I have spent about 40K on tools alone. All the Festool sanders, 150mm Rotex, cordless Delta, 225 Planex, 26l M class and 15l M class dust extractors, variable speed angle grinder with a shroud for 125mm grinding, Graco 650 pro airless pump, Devilbiss 2l pot with gun/air compressor, full plasterer kit out, about a 100 brushes and 50 roller naps, full AEG cordless tool kit including compound miter saw on folding table w/wheels, and so many bits of stuff that goes with it its nuts … and I’m now 61 …

              But yeah per the post trade skills have been rubbished by the industry standards pushed by big Corp suppliers, industry machinations to deskill trades by pushing building standards lower and lower [ikea dog boxes], ending the old trade school system for a certificate profit mill, FIRE sector meme that physical labour is for the stoopid people, and the worst part is now days so many kids not in the rural areas never handle tools at an early age, instructed by dad or others, have poor physical mobility/range of movement, and best for last a mental capacity to mechanically sort things out ….

              Yet I helped take the 40 year old bloke I work with and over 4 years went from low balling quotes [working like a galley slave] or using rubbish work apps to a word of mouth only business that does not advertise and brought is rates up to reflect that. Booked 4/6 months out, clients love us, bottles of premium scotch [Japanese for me please], tons of call backs for other works … the clients friends make lots of comments because they have experienced the opposite in getting work done …

              I showed up at a house we painted about a year ago and it still looks like it was done weeks ago. Clients remodeled the Kitchen and wanted the whole level repainted to include the stair area to the second floor. So having done the level I had the stair balustrades to do and 4 turned columns on the central kitchen island. By brush and roller two days, I did it in less that 2 hrs after masking/prep and with a factory level finish by myself.

              Ugh all the things I’ve seen over the years and its a doom loop … and all a top down affair … see MBAs … groan …

            2. Carla

              Yves, re: plaster. Yes, I know. The last skilled plasterer in our area retired a couple of years ago. I used him for repairs, including after a major leak disaster, for years. In new construction and most renovations around here, there is no new plaster, only crap drywall. But the painters we had didn’t even know how to deal with that.

              1. skippy

                In the US now days its all spray most of the time, actual painters are like hens teeth. The rest we call pub painters over here in Oz, crack a tin and smash it on an then run to the pub.

      7. Greg King

        Since I’m a retired Utility Fitter UA Local 355 and accredited JTPA instructor I can assure the folks reading this that trained Journeypersons preform at the expected level required. There is a certification process within the training program overseen by the State of California along with the Contractor being appropriately licensed-insured-and taking jobs with permits. The costs when all taken into account esp. large jobs are many times equal or less. The long view is a larger trained work for & that people can actually have a retirement and not end-up in poverty maybe at Taxpayers’ expense, For 1.

    2. digi_owl

      Yeah, kinda sad seeing the local yard go from providing much of the community with employment to being mostly filled with foreigners on questionable contracts.

      Kept hearing about some they had to send home because they didn’t have the first clue about the job they were supposed to do, something that was obvious to the foremen that had climbed the ranks in the decades prior.

      Should have seen it coming though, as the merchant marine went through much the same. Was a “sweet gig” for someone tired of the classroom. But then came the 80s and the big companies threatened to register their fleets abroad. Government caved, and now most ships in international waters are staffed by Asians beyond captain and chief engineer.

      1. qmess

        Remember with fondness the era before the merchant marine cut out benefits
        in the Reagan days. It used to be a viable gig. No unions, fair pay and plenty of
        work (down south). Then it changed, not for the better. The companies dictated
        terms and fun was not one of the benefits (among many others).

  3. Cocomaan

    Definitely seen a gradual drag downward on skilled help in the ten years I’ve been in my home.

    My theory: there’s growing general disinterest in single family home maintenance because it doesn’t bring in nearly the money and stability of, say, new construction, corporate, or industrial. Think remodeling a hospital, or maintaining a factory floor. On those jobs, the contractor can stay in one place for months. Pay is less lumpy and more stable.

    Going from home to home, learning new systems, and dealing with homeowners is a chore and an art not everyone is suited for. Homeowners complain. They refuse to pay.

    So, like everything else, it’s become a service to the larger monied interests. With less contractors around, it’s a sellers market.

    1. TimH

      My general contractor told me that no-one will come out to look at a job unless it’s worth at least $750.

  4. dougie

    “well trained tradesmen who develop a reputation for doing good work will likely in not all that long to be able to command top dollar.”

    The horse is out of the barn and in the next county on that development. Top automotive repair talent is earning $125k-150k annually in my shop. Plus benefits. IMO, they deserve every penny of it.

    1. ambrit

      Considering how expensive a good scan tool is now, and that one is necessary to work on the newer models, the rise in automotive repair costs is understandable. However, with the decline in DIY possible repairs with today’s cars, I can see the ‘lower economic stratas’ being priced out of individual auto ownership. This dog is going to end up chewing off it’s own tail.

  5. DJG, Reality Czar

    About nineteen years ago, I bought a condominium in the Edgewater neighborhood of Chicago. Now, that was an education in people in the trades. Natch, the developer couldn’t resist cheaping out. I hadn’t seen that many drums of Developer Off-White Latex Paint in many a year.

    The developer used much immigrant labor that was obviously underpaid. Eighteen years ago. This meant that one toilet had to get a new wax seal not long after (re-worked by a reputable plumber). I don’t want to dump on Russians, but the developer had Russian electricians who were only too happy to put sockets in lopsided in the middle of a wall. And then we had a series of very suspicious burglaries.

    Real-estate developers + underpaid workers = bad news

    Nevertheless, and a big nevertheless, because Edgewater is still a living neighborhood in a poorly managed city, I found an excellent painter, excellent refinishers for some repairs to a traditional room-long Chicago mantelpiece, fantastic (and amusing) plumbers, an electrician who walked in, gave me the name of the part to get, and walked out (because doing a full service call on a minor issue would be too costly for me).

    Last fall, to put the place on the market when I moved to Undisclosed City in Italy, my real-estate agent and I had the painter come in (even though his specialty now is building saunas!). She had the ultimate Croatian-immigrant “floor guy” fix some bad boards and refinish all the floors.

    In Chicago, in viable neighborhoods–meaning mixed socially, because the plumbers I worked with live nearby, for instance–it is possible to deal with excellent people in the trades.

    My niece who lives downtown, though, just had the experience of a contractor who no-showed, did work wrong, and made excuses.

    Also, and this may help to lift the standards, family owned Abt is the place everyone on the northern part of the city goes to for appliances. And Abt prides itself on being able to fix anything. Even the washing machine that the developer and his peeps managed to damage when they installed it in my apartment.

    Here in Undisclosed City, repairs and reconstruction are the order of the day. Of course, it is also a chance to see the Fine Italian Hand in action. A delight.

    1. ambrit

      Oh yes. Watching a true craftsman or woman at work is wonderous to behold.
      Here in the dreaded North American Deep South, I have noticed that older, reclaimable dwellings are being demolished rather than refurbished. The Blight of Gentrification throws it’s pall over everything it drifts by.
      Out of curiosity, what would you say the “average” age of the housing in Undisclosed City in Etruria is? Around here, in the NADS, fifty to a hundred years of age is a fair range for the older housing stock.
      Be sweet over there!

    2. marym

      +1 for Abt. I live in a condo building in a Chicago suburb. Through the years there’s been plenty of appliance replacement and remodeling in the building. It’s an extremely rare occasion when I see an appliance delivery truck that isn’t from Abt.

      It’s easy enough to shop on-line, and consult by phone, but at the store they have a Vintage Products Museum – really old appliances that are still in working condition. It’s worth a visit, though sad to realize how much we’ve lost of quality products.

  6. chris

    Yves, Having worked in and around construction my whole life, at all levels, I think what you are seeing is a confluence of three factors. How they interact in any given market produces the results that you experience.

    1.) We are having a hard time attracting and retaining talented workers in the trades. And by talented, I mean kids who can put down their phones long enough to complete a task if you’re not standing there watching them. I’ve had to take phones away from people working at heights or doing other dangerous tasks because if I didn’t they’d pull them out and be much more likely to make a distracted mistake. Everyone says they want to “work hard and play hard” until they learn what working hard means. Lay large format tile for a week. Or rake and set concrete for slabs in forms for a week. Or do welding in odd positions for a week. Or get up at 5 AM to do rough plumbing for a week. Then marinate in the aches and pains. That’s what many people don’t want to do. It’s a hard sell to many young people. I think they’re great jobs but they’re not the easy jobs they think their peers on a college track will have. This isn’t true everywhere though! Places that have a union or trades tradition have it easier than others.

    2.) Home owners have become more ignorant as building systems have become more complex. I don’t blame this on any individual home owner. Our society does a really bad job of teaching this stuff. But your average home owner doesn’t know how a water heater works. Or a sump pump. Or a toilet. They can’t explain what happens when the furance turns on or off. So when things go wrong in a ground source heat pump system, or their solar water system, or their whole house humidifier, or their septic tank, or their well pump, or their really fancy refrigerator that’s been fried by dirty power, they have no idea what to do. For example, many home owners don’t know all the electric circuits on their house or how they connect back to the breaker. That makes it really hard to diagnose some problems. It leads to dangerous errors when you don’t understand what might have caused a trip.

    3.) We have been dealing with supply chain issues and manufacturer off shoring for many years and it has gotten much worse. For example, a lot of plumbing components are manufactured over seas. That makes it hard to get quick responses to questions, replacement parts, or in some cases, parts without inherent flaws. Like the threads aren’t right. Or the O-ring isn’t rated for the type of service the part will see because they gave you the wrong O-ring. Market consolidation and monopoly is part of this story too. You have a lot of manufacturers of things like valves that are now part of the same company that make the tools to install the valves. So you get away from general solutions and have to maintain multiple sets of tools for specific branded systems. And all the while, it’s harder and harder to get ovens, windows, trim, deck boards, etc.

    There are contractors who will work with home owners to mentor them in home repair. If you combine that with the tool lending libraries you mentioned the other day you can pick up on these skills.

    I wish we were as concerned with teaching kids this stuff as we were about pronouns and feelings. But we’re not. That is the reason I think so many people have no idea how the built environment works and why they think we can de-industrialize without problems. Or just go to all solar and shutter our power plants. They’re deeply ignorant of how our basic infrastructure works and what it requires to maintain it. Or what it takes to compensate when it’s damaged. We assume you can delay repairs indefinitely. That’s how you get condo collapses like what happened at Surfside.

    My recommendation is to learn how all the stuff in your home works. My preference is to always have three options everytime something breaks: do I fix it myself, do I pay someone to fix it, do I buy a replacement. I don’t buy things for my house that I rely on which I can’t fix myself. But for the times when I don’t have the capacity to do it, or doing it myself could be dangerous, I hire licensed and insured professionals who I trust to help. Tree services being a great example of when to hire a professional even if you don’t mind playing lumberjack. Another is maintaining an oil burner and a chimney.

    If you’re interested in learning about all this, and want a decent reference which shows how things work and how to do a lot of the work yourself, look into getting a subscription to Fine Homebuilding magazine from Taunton Press. Their monthly magazine plus their extensive catalog of articles is really great. Fine Homebuilding is a great way to see what is possible and what highly trained trade labor is doing in the residential construction industry. It’s a relatively cheap and easy way to begin your education in this area.

    Good luck!

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Thanks! This is generally excellent advice. However, heretofore I have always been an apartment dweller. Having a lawn is another layer of complexity and cost that does not appeal to me. So I hope to be happily back in an apartment with a superintendent who is motivated by his relationship with the owner to keep the building, and therefore also my unit, in at least OK shape. My experience is supers are all over emergencies like leaks and potentially serious electrical and gas faults.

      In this case, the negligence of the HVAC company looks to be extremely long standing. The contract with them goes back to when my father was alive, as in before 2006. There are basic deficiencies in the system that (I believe and expect to have confirmed when I bring in another company for bids) that a basic inspection would have found immediately. Our premier maintenance plan promised two “through inspections” a year.

      1. chris

        So let me tell you if you think finding good trades people as a home owner is a problem, residential construction has nothing on the problems building engineers are seeing. They really can’t get good new people. They have all these issues and more.

        I understand the detail about living in apartments. I’ll tell you that even if you’re not going to own the property and it’s maintained by the building reps, you should still have your unit and the major mechanical systems in the building inspected prior to entering a rental contract. That goes double for condos. I know it’s not typical. I know the rental market is such that perhaps the only time you’d get to do it is after you’ve signed a lease. I firmly believe it’s still necessary. If only to determine where the water shut off is to your individual unit in case of an emergency.

        Sounds like you have good evidence for a claim against the HVAC company. I hope you’re able to resolve it quickly.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          I’ve rented only in big cities with good pro-tenant laws, which sets a high baseline. But your advice is VERY VERY valuable if I move overseas, since I doubt I would have any good recourse (no matter how much time I spent on lease terms, even charitably assuming I could negotiate them) if I wind up in a lemon. Better to reduce odds of lemons!

          1. chris

            You’re welcome Yves. I wish you the best of luck. Just so you know, most condo associations and apartment buildings that are managed by large companies have shifted to models where the building engineer and staff are not on site everyday. In fact, they might have a dozen buildings all over the country that they help to maintain. They rely on remote sensors and building automation systems to make that work. But if you get a leak at night that floods your unit, or the people below you leave their windows open and that causes a coil on a common riser to fail… you’re SOL.

            So I would add to your search criteria a request that the building maintenance staff be available in the building 24/7. Not on call 24/7. There’s a big difference these days.

    2. etrigan

      This is of course anecdotal but regarding pronouns and feelings, most of the trans individuals and gender nonconforming people I know are in the crafts and trades including construction and digital infrastructure: its good reliable work and no one gives a crap about how they express their gender, because people are there to do the work. Yet they wouldn’t have gone into such physical labor if they hadn’t trusted their relationship to their bodies and made changes that felt correct, and trusted their unions and co workers to back them up. There is a large overlap of pro labor and trans rights advocacy.

      1. chris

        I agree that if you can do the work, and do it well, no one cares what you look like or what you call yourself. However, the path to getting to that work, and certainly licensing to do that work, goes through technical classes where they do not care about topics or style that are more common in, say, social studies. I acknowledge that’s a barrier to atypical people going into these fields.

      2. Bugs

        That’s a beautiful comment because the first trans woman I ever met was a fantastic BMW mechanic who owned her own garage and had a team of maybe 7 younger guys working for her. She was also great at programming and was running her own bbs back when that was cutting edge. At the time my crowd was mainly LGB but I’d had a completely stereotypical view of gender that, thanks to her, evaporated right before my eyes. And through the years I’ve met plenty more gender diverse people in the trades. Again, thanks for that.

        1. chris

          My point was that for my own kids, they receive classes on topics involving gender and “social emotional learning” no matter what. I couldn’t opt them out of those classes even if I wanted to. That’s been true since kindergarten. But classes on technical topics? How to use a screwdriver or read an instruction manual? That they have to seek out. So many kids never get exposed to those topics in school.

          1. Ed S.

            Your comment about “how to use a screwdriver” is particularly on-point.

            A former neighbor was a retired union electrician in SF (from a family of tradesmen); he commented that the union had a difficult time finding any apprentices (at a starting salary of $60k/year back in 2017). And when they did, the apprentices were mechanically inept – they didn’t know how to use a screwdriver. His opinion was that it was a consequence of the general impossibility of most individuals to do any repairs on products they own (due to the ever-increasing complexity of most products).

          2. Questa Nota

            Ask a kid to change a flat tire.
            Then ask what would happen if that flat tire occurred out of cell phone range.
            Panic ensues.
            Happy place sought, preferably with crayons and plush toys.
            Only 1/2 /s

            1. Jen

              I am grateful to my father for making me change tires on the family car before I could learn to drive. Ironically, in his 89 years on earth he has had exactly one flat tire. Me – I’ve had so many I can swap one out in 5 minutes or less without getting a speck of dirt on me.

    3. Carolinian

      Our library has those Fine Homebuilding books and there was one by a house framer describing all the tricks and techniques he used to frame a house in a few days. Being into “process” I find it fun to read about such things even as my own ability to put them into practice is stymied by the tremendous hard work involved in schlepping lots of heavy lumber. I’m much better at working on cars where the beast of burden aspect is less of a factor.

      In line with the above it’s hard to miss that now most of the heavy lifting where I live is done by Mexican work gangs who, indeed, frame a new house in a few days. Here in America we live in a society that for decades has devoted itself to reducing manual labor through machines for everything from harvesting to noisy and powerful leaf blowers (outside my window as i write). It’s hard not to suspect that this country has become as dependent on Mexican immgrants as on Chinese factory workers and that rolling back the clock to the way things were–Trump’s big pitch–is likely to be a pipe dream. The country was after all built by immigrants from different countries who were motivated to do the work and succeed here.

      Instead the solution for many may to be to start living small–Nomadland in place of mansionettes.

      1. Molly

        How to get U.S. made appliances, good lumber, parts for free.
        Excellent page on construction techniques too. Links, links, links. No ads.

        “Very often a contractor will save the material for you outside of the dumpster if you ask nicely, pick it all up and don’t look like you’ll hurt yourself on his job site. This can save him the often substantial cost of hiring an extra dumpster. A six pack of cold drinks offered to workmen on a hot day is a nice token of appreciation and has smoothed the way for us to scrounge many hundreds of dollars of building material in exchange.”

    4. Tom Pfotzer

      Great post, Chris. On a going-forward basis, I think this point you made is worth repeating:

      I think so many people have no idea how the built environment works and why they think we can de-industrialize without problems. Or just go to all solar and shutter our power plants. They’re deeply ignorant of how our basic infrastructure works and what it requires to maintain it.

      We’ve become a very specialized society, and therefore we’ve put some distance between ourselves and our infrastructure (one set of operational systems), and also the natural world (the other, more fundamental set of operational systems).

      In my case, I have a farm and I elected to invest time developing the skills and acquiring the tools necessary to operate and maintain all the systems in my household and farm. I hire out only those jobs that are dangerous (roofing) or require specialized tools and permits (HVAC refrigerant handling), or that are too big to do by one person in the allowable timeframe (roofing again).

      There is no appliance or system in my household I can’t fix, and I do. I source the parts, do the repairs, make the occasional mistake, and learn from them.

      Because I know what I’m doing, the contractors I hire quickly come to understand that, and behave accordingly. I also know what to ask for. I ask penetrating questions about method and materials, and listen and use the feedback I get. I almost never choose the cheapest price, but the contractor that exhibits technical mastery, and has a track record. I do the due-diligence, too. (check with recent customers, etc.)

      I have done concrete, stone masonry, plumbing, gas (propane), electrical, and generator work – extensive, not trivial – and all my work was permitted by the county, and inspected by the county. The inspections were not trivial; they looked at everything, and closely. All my inspections were passed first visit, and part of that is because I consulted with the inspector before construction, and explained in detail what I planned to do, and got early course-correction while it was still cheap to course-correct. I see the inspectors as a terrific resource, and they know it, and they respond very positively to that sort of treatment.

      I also design, install and operate my network and systems infrastructure, and I procure, upgrade and maintain a whole battery of farm equipment, including tractors, balers, spreader, tillage, etc.

      All those things take time to learn, and of course it’s not for everyone. There are many side-benefits. I wait for no one. I know how to tell if/when a part is failing, so I can act preemptively. It’s fun (for me; certainly not for everyone). It costs way, way less…until you add in the cost of my labor. Then it’s more. :)

      The other side-benefit is that this knowledge informs my remarks about economic design.

      You’ve all heard me advocate for local econ development, and a good bit of that economic evolution – should it continue to develop along that trajectory – is going to necessitate changes in our underlying operational systems which deliver energy, water, food, comm, health care, house construction, materials cycling…all the stuff necessary to provision a household.

      And those provisioning systems need skilled people, at the local level, to design, build, operate and maintain them. I see a lot of economic potential, especially for young people, in learning these sort of skills.

      If the household does acquire these skills, it makes possible a rather different cost structure. You can buy land, and then build your house, put in on-site utilities (energy, water, waste, network, irrigation, greenhouse, etc) … that’s an enormous amount of money you don’t have to spend – you’re just buying materials – and therefore don’t have to make, and debt you don’t have to service. That’s a lot of meters you don’t have to feed every month. Resourceful people do this all the time; I hear legion stories about it.

      So it’s not just about what skill-set pays the best. It’s about which lifestyle satisfies the best.

      Autarky is certainly not for everyone, and for good reasons. But it is increasingly a very attractive option.

      1. NoFreeWill

        All of the problems of de-industrialization required to survive climate change are really just one part of the challenge of changing the entire political-economy, but they are problems worth solving if you want to prevent civ collapse or human extinction. More importantly, they are problems that require vast quantities of LABOR and therefore can employ vast amounts of people. The Green New Deal is a very milquetoast version of this and mostly amounts to subsidizing large corps rather than getting money directly into the hands of labor, but a relocalization effort/degrowth plan would do much more and require and therefore sustain workers much more…

    5. scott s.

      Well, that is where military service can come in. I was a career naval officer. Probably the hardest, but also rewarding job was chief engineer in a warship. Yes we had some dirtbags, but mostly guys working hard day in and day out. We had every trade imaginable. But in my day we also had quite a bit of uniformed repair capability, things like tenders, that now are all contracted out to the lowest bidder. Then you end up with ships that burn to the waterline.

  7. The Rev Kev

    Just read of how tradesmen can be in demand not only locally but also internationally. So France is bringing all their nuclear reactors back on line after half of them were found to have had corrosion problems. However, in order to do this, they had to fly in 100 American welders from Westinghouse to do the work. That tells me that that France has not only neglected this vital skill for their own nuke plants but might imply that this holds true for the rest of the EU as well. For those welders I would imagine that it would be a pretty sweet deal as for sure they would be getting good money while likely France is picking up the tab for the flights, accommodation and local transport. Just another aspect how qualified tradespeople are a factor not to be neglected-

    1. KFritz

      If the equipment was manufactured by Westinghouse, it’s possible that Westinghouse trained workers familiar, trained, certified, etc. with the specific equipment were a better choice than local workers, however skilled.

    2. scott s.

      Here in Honolulu, due to engineering failure, they decided to “fix” by welding up the rail frogs. The bid spec required Hawaii licensed welders. Turns out there are no Hawaii licensed welders who can do that type of weld. They had to relent and allow welders certified elsewhere to be flown in.

      Welding on nuclear is pretty specialized work (so is NDT) which is why the public shipyards are still around in the US. Even in my background of 1200 psi steam propulsion that piping was what USN calls “level 1” and required special welders/NDT. Likewise in submarines where after some tragedies we created the “subsafe” program to more closely manage the work.

  8. Patrick Donnelly

    Relentless immigration ruins wages. That affects everything.

    What the last two generations of rich people have forgotten is the fundamental relationship: the poor will always be poor because they spend everything. That spending supplies the rich and middle classes. The rich must spend money locally, to ensure goodwill and keep the communities alive. Taxes are only collected from those who can pay!

    The workers work and then either retire with SS or succumb to stress, dying out. The middle classes save money and provide the skills with some being lifted to improve bloodlines.

    S and C America are basket cases for a reason. They have been strip mined without investment by decadent rulers. The Families simply become very short term. Nepotism means management of the economies fails.

    Time for a cull. Destroying some families will actually get the other families’ approval, as they will pick up some of the spoils.
    Examples tend to be the cheapest way to improve performance.
    Pour Encourager les autres.

    1. hunkerdown

      Let’s put paid to self-regarding PMC mythology right from the start. The reason capitalism sucks is NOT because you are not in charge running things better. It sucks because there is a labor class expected to do hard labor without adequate relent. Any other social order with a labor class is going to suck in the very same way.

      It would be better to erase all the Names and their privileges.

  9. Mike

    Of course, another piece of this is the fact that in a hot housing market one of the first things to go are the home inspections for the seller, another opportunity for amateur and shoddy work to go unnoticed until the new owner is well and truly holding the bag.

    1. chris

      So, one of the generally unknown consequences from the housing collapse in 2007 was the building and inspection departments in multiple jurisdictions were gutted. Those people have not been replaced. Sellers don’t pay for private home inspections in most jurisdictions. The buyers do. The quality controls on county and city inspections for permitted contractor work have been lacking in quality in many jurisdictions. That plus the resuming of work from the latest housing crush means that we have a lot of construction defects floating around that people have no idea exist.

      1. Mike

        My wife and I love watching Mike Holmes as he goes in and rips houses apart to fix shoddy contractor’s work. One of his oft-repeated mantras is that you always get an inspection when buying a house.

        Then you see things like the blued wood you can get in Canadia, and wonder if we have anything like that available to us here.

        1. chris

          Mike Holmes is a joy to watch. I haven’t had to buy any serious reno supplies in a while. You used to be able to get Bluwood and Azek and other stuff easily.

  10. Beyond the rubicoN

    Union tradesman and home owner and I can attest to everything every one has said to be true. Trade jobs can be good, mostly if they are union. The problem I find is most small business is only viable with cheap labor and low over head so once the new guys realize the work is hard and their boss is not going to give them a raise… probably ever, they go find something else. Also starting pay is too low in many cases and there is no clearly defined pay scale like in a union that ramps up with experience. My local GMC dealership is looking to hire techs for $17 when at least $25 is needed to afford an apartment, buying tools etc. The Fordist model has been gutted to an extent that leaves the industry headed toward oblivion.

    Fyi, my tile setter is from Mexico, carpenter from Germany, electrician is retired Union guy from a big city.

  11. Questa Nota

    A few observations from the field.

    Construction superintendent tells me that he can’t hire enough people, at good wages and benefits on a union highway gig, to do jobs right. That lack of decent journeymen tends to burn out people at his level and with his foremen. They all spend a lot more time now, compared to just a few years ago, redoing work, monitoring and generally just making sure that guys do the job. A lower stress career path now is to make enough money to buy and lease out equipment, and let some other guy try to wrangle his own workers.

    Specialty domestic plumbing, meaning water heaters and such, along with automatic garage door repair, are rackets. In the former, customers can be told that they need XYZ add-on, and they go along with it. Who keeps up with local code requirements when they just want their hot water to work? Many jurisdictions even have forms for customers to sign acknowledging that they aren’t being jacked around, wink wink sigh, while desperate for running water. Other games include insistence on a two-man crew when one would do, because gotta keep your brother-in-law or old neighbor earning, for domestic tranquility.

    By the way, that little job just cost $500 to keep going a water heater that used to last longer. Planned obsolescence and all that, and prepare for a really expensive replacement unit so do your research.

    The garage door business is also fraught with similar issues. When the car is stuck in the garage, people tend to pay quickly to regain access. Installers and maintenance guys will tell you, as they have me because I asked, that customers won’t know that the springs or rollers they are having installed are cheaper imports from guess where that will break or wear out much sooner than domestic ones. That is also available online when you know how to search.

    The other racket piece is the hidden roll-up or ownership of businesses, where the guy in the van and the other guys in the next vans all work for the same organization operating with different phone numbers. Not much price competition when supply is controlled and young people aren’t going into that trade, even without that student debt.

  12. Mikerw0

    This a pervasive problem across all the industries I deal with. The depreciation of skilled labor and the looming retirement cliff (not to ignore that products are designed to be hard to repair so that you replace them). In some businesses the roll-ups and concentration of market share also exacerbate things.

    From my experience:
    – Bike shops can’t find mechanics as bikes become ever more diverse and complex. Which has the added impact of forcing the shops, which is a low profit business, to hold more parts inventory to account for all the variations.

    – HVAC / heating – in the NYC suburbs cannot get basic workers. Wait times for even routine seasonal maintenance on service contracts are protracted.

    – Airlines – are losing pilots and mechanic and not feeding the pipeline.

    – Trucking – OTR and LTL – can’t get drivers. LTL requires a lot of skill.

    – Semiconductor mtg. – we have gutted that labor force.

    Just examples.

    1. Jokerstein

      Bike shops can’t find mechanics as bikes become ever more diverse and complex. Which has the added impact of forcing the shops, which is a low profit business, to hold more parts inventory to account for all the variations.

      Cycles? Cycles are a very small oligopoly, at least decent bicycles. It’s either Campagnolo, Shimano, or SRAM, at least in the US. Campag have been around more than a century, Shimano have been a strong force in medium-/high-class cycling for at least half a century, and SRAM for a couple of decades.

      Plus, all the mechanics of cycles work pretty much the same: SRAM copied Shimano and Capmag, and Shimano copied Campag.

      1. scott s.

        Well, you are just looking at major drivetrain/brake components, which for the most part aren’t repairable. Just look at bottom bracket “standards” and all the aftermarket “fixes”. And now you see more proprietary bits like bars, stems, seatposts, etc.

        The days when you could just replace some ball bearings in a bottom bracket, headset, or wheel hub, regrease, and be on your way are long gone.

        1. Hazelbrew

          I beg to differ.

          Sealed cartridge bottom brackets are far better than repairable ball bearing brackets and are available in a range of prices and weights. The sizing has been standardized for decades.

          Bars, stems and seatposts are a terrible example from you to try and make your point. There is a great variety of manufacturing of alternatives. With ease of swapping based on the standardized sizing of these components.
          The same goes for things like braking systems where you can mix and match calipers, cables and levers.
          Wheels and shocks are rebuildable with replacement spokes rims and seal kits.
          Bikes for me are like mechanical grown up Lego. You really can build what you like.

  13. Cetra Ess

    When I was in HS (in the 80s) we looked down on the kids who wanted to go into trades, took classes like welding, milling, woodworking and machine shop or even electrical. Now I’m a PMC and live in an area where everyone is in the trades, has massive houses, 3+cars, and the company truck sitting in the driveway. The house I rent is owned by a contractor who provides an essential service for the local office construction, and he owns three other houses on the street. The mortgages on all three houses were paid decades ago, during the 90’s, so he’s quite the rentier. I think this is true of many of the tradespeople, the skillset they’ve developed has allowed them to purchase dirt cheap, flip and rent out houses.

    It’s probably a whole other topic how these tradesfolk have abandoned the blue collar fidelities and politics but the script has certainly flipped.

    1. hunkerdown

      That’s basically the life-cycle class system of the Calvinist socioeconomic order: apprentice, submit, and accumulate until you can buy your personhood, in the form of a workshop/house/wife of which you can call yourself the Master. (The Leather lifestyle community offers much the same journey in a cheaper and more titillating format, but that’s another story.)

      The middle class exists to administer the labor class on behalf of capital. Perhaps working-class pieties were circumstantial rather than ideological. “To train, not to inform” as they say.

  14. eg

    A topic near to my heart. I spent 8 years with a group trying to promote the skilled trades to young people in our county. It was uphill work all the way, and in my experience it’s parents who are to blame.

    1. CanCyn

      Parents and PMC snootiness about trades as a profession. This is a long standing problem. I worked in a high school in the 1990s and the guidance counsellors wanted everyone to go to university. No one was encouraged to learn a trade. When I told one of them I had a plumber friend who was a multi-millionaire who collected Porsches for a hobby she was flabbergasted. My husband was a steel worker, he often suffered social snobbiness when a stranger asked about his profession at an event. His reply usually had the person moving on to ‘better’ company and that was many moons ago. It has only gotten worse.
      IDK when we decided that life was about winning and losing, but physical work is loser work for many. When I was a little kid it was perfectly acceptable to say you wanted to be a bus driver or a construction worker when you grew up. PMC parents’ heads would explode if their children gave such an answer today.
      Many trades do indeed Involve tough physical work so low wages and poor/no benefits haven’t helped the situation either. Never mind that fixing things and building things is good honest work that can help you sleep at night.
      Our move to a more rural area in Ontario has been a pleasant surprise with regard to labour on jobs around the house. People know each other so referrals can generally be counted on – “ do you know a guy who…?” generally gets a reliable answer. Back in the city we crossed our fingers and hoped.
      So, sorry to say Yves, I don’t have any good advice for you. My husband is the handy man around here and we hire out only when we have to. I have no interest in fixing and repairs, the garden is my domain. If I were on my own, I’d be renting too.

      1. CanCyn

        Sorry, took my time writing my post and missed Cetra Ess’s 8:54 am comment. Indeed for many skilled trades guys, their work has gained them entry to PMC world but my experience here in eastern Ontario has found that many of the guys working in home building and repair and other residential trades are good hard workers who just want to take care of their families. They are often from farming backgrounds with no hope of earning a living on their parents’ farm. No doubt many of them will cash in on inheritance of said farms if they can develop the land for residential building. Conversion of farm land to homes is happening more and more out this way, a topic for another day I suppose.

      2. Jen

        “Our move to a more rural area in Ontario has been a pleasant surprise with regard to labour on jobs around the house. People know each other so referrals can generally be counted on – “ do you know a guy who…?” generally gets a reliable answer.”

        Same here in rural NH. About a year after I moved into my house I replaced the portable dishwasher with an under counter one, and put the old one up for grabs on the local listserv. That’s how I met Randy. Randy has lived in the area forever and knows everyone. He’s been my reliable source on who to work with and who to avoid forever. He’s also a excellent mechanic. And every time we talk he tells me that dishwasher, which has to be 20 years old or more at this point, is still working and has been passed down to yet another member of his family.

        I’ve done a lot of work on my house over the years and as a result have a builder, plumber and electrician that I know I can rely on. They also know they can rely on me – I’m reasonable to work with and pay my bills on time.

  15. Ronnie

    New home construction worker and a home owner. I work with lots of trades and the big problem seems to be how hard the work is on your body for the level of pay you are getting.
    I’m 41 and suffer a lot of aches and pains, the pay is decent and I have a good pension with the union, so should be able to retire fairly early in my life before my body is to damaged.
    The problem I believe is starting at a low pay with the hardest work and being young makes it hard to keep going. Also it doesn’t help that interest rates and inflation keep eroding what were once good wages and the older workers don’t realize how bad it gotten.

  16. Tbone

    30 year cabinet maker here.
    Sonoma co (N. CA.)
    Can’t find an apprentice at 25per that # gets misspelled applications.
    Forget journeyman.
    There is so much work going on here that it is ridiculous – think 2008.
    When it all goes pear shaped and these things always do there will be plenty of tradesmen.
    I didn’t work for almost half of 2010 and that wasn’t because I wanted to stay home.

  17. ex-PFC Chuck

    Some younger folk are wising up. My circa 20 yo grand nephew’s career Plan A was to go into wildlife management working for a state or federal agency. He comes by this naturally. His dad, my nephew is a small town teacher and coach, a sought after fishing guide in the summers, who also free-lance writes for fishing and hunting magazines. Two years into the education and accreditation process my grand nephew realized he wouldn’t have much control over where he was assigned and began having second thoughts. One of his summer jobs was as a handyman for one of the may resorts in the lake country of northern Minnesota, where he grew up, and he found he enjoyed that work. Especially the plumbing part. He’s now taking a year off the education track to continue working for the resort through the winter while he contemplates which path to choose.

  18. Matthew G. Saroff

    It strikes me that hiring skilled people with some sort of disability, using a local disability agency to locate them and get them trained, might help.

    1. ambrit

      Alas, construction and repair are the quintessential “ableist” occupations. Said work is hard on your physical body. A H— of a lot of lifting, carrying, and awkward position work will tell on you by dinnertime. On a “bad” job, I would often fall asleep on the living room couch before dinner. [If you knew me better, you would understand just how extreme such a happening was.]
      Secondly, I have noticed that the local “disability training agencies” focus on the easiest jobs, and also those that pay the least with the most demand. (Something about cause and effect involved, I’m sure.) I have always assumed that local NGOs and Government Agencies are beholden to some Local Power Clique. I have almost always not been wrong in that assumption.

    2. chris

      You’re asking a lot of construction sites to accommodate disabled people. These are inherently dangerous places with high expectations on physical capabilities. Heavy construction is even more so. This is a situation where the people who prefer to think of things in terms of “differently abled” are simply wrong. The people involved are broken into two categories – those who can do the work, and those who can’t. If you can, there is little patience or pity for other issues you may have. If you can’t, there is no place for you. It is that stark a dichotomy.

      Now, with long COVID, we may find ourselves in a bind. We’ll have to figure out some accommodations if there is no one available to do the work. But it will be difficult to have assisted lifts and devices helping people during initial and intermediate stages of construction on any scale in any industry. In my opinion, based on experience, some minimum performance criteria for safe work at construction sites could include:

      Eyesight that is, or can be corrected to, 20/40 or better
      Excellent hearing
      Good sense of smell
      Ability to perform physical work for hours without food or medicine
      Ability to perform physical work in temperatures ranging from -20 F to 120 F
      No fear of heights
      No fear of enclosed spaces
      No fear of dark spaces
      No fear of insects or arachnids or vermin
      Ability to climb a 20 foot fixed ladder carrying 20 pounds of gear on your body
      Ability to climb four sets of stairs carrying 50 pounds without stopping
      Ability to carry 100 pounds of equipment or materials for 100 yards without stopping
      Ability to safely lift 150 pounds from ground level to waist level
      Ability to select, put on, and remove all required PPE
      Sufficient pulmonary capacity to wear a respirator while performing physical labor
      Ability to read proficiently in varying light levels
      Ability to precisely use required tools to minimize waste
      Ability to read blueprints and design documents
      Ability to draw and communicate design changes
      Ability to use tape measures and other devices
      Ability to understand directions to NOT operate equipment or use tools you are not trained or permitted to use

      You could go on and on. I’m not saying that disabled people can’t work in construction. I’m saying that it’s very difficult for some people with disabilities to even step on to a construction site because all those criteria I listed above have been minimums on projects I’ve worked on.

  19. semper loquitur

    Years ago I was dating a junior manager at one of the bigger hotels in NYC. As a former cook, I was curious about the kitchen that they ran. I love to peruse kitchens and see what kind of equipment and such that they have.

    The hotel didn’t have a restaurant per say, just a breakfast bar. Still, I was curious to see how it worked in the back. I asked her if I could take a look and she said sure.

    I was quite surprised. No pots. No pans. No real ovens or jets or elements. No metal tongs. No metal spatulas. No real knives. The closest they had were some metal sheet trays. All of the appliances were of the toasting and warming variety.

    All the food, with the exception of the rock hard apples and greenish bananas, was packaged up in plastic bags. Including the pre-cooked eggs. All the condiments were in those little disposable packs.

    I asked my friend how many cooks they had working in there. She said they didn’t hire cooks. They didn’t need to.

  20. Gus 2021

    I found after pursuing trades welding aviation etc … it just doesn’t pay ,
    Bad clients
    Low pay
    In the weather
    Go stand on your feet for 20 plus years
    People still think you are a hack
    sure you can make 2k a week welding ….but the jobs over in 2 months
    I see what my office in laws have to do for the same money and it’s nothing.
    Oh yeah and insurance for jobsite

    So yeah the best and brightest still go to school…..and the trades end up laying in the snow fixing dead tractors

  21. Lexx

    A few thoughts…

    ~We have a saying here: take care of the people who take care of you. We’re DIYers from way back, but we can’t do everything, e.g. hanging sheet rock. When we hire out, if we like the service rendered, we tip well and request that service person next time by name. Even a transactional relationship is a relationship and we take with it. The responsibility shouldn’t be entirely on the bosses for keeping their employees content in their jobs. They are part of our community and need to be shown that they provide vital and meaningful services. A simple ‘thank you’ is nice but it’s not always enough. There’s growing stack of twenties and gift cards in a drawer to be given away by years’ end. In almost all of our lives there’s a team of people helping us keep body and soul together.

    ~We were scheduled for an iron injection for our pear tree at the end of November. Yesterday our tree service called and said they’d be out this morning between 9 and noon. I hadn’t called them for an earlier date, as the tree turned faster than we anticipated. The arborist, Mickey, had been in the neighborhood, saw that the tree was turning, snow is in the forecast for tonight, and changed the order, and so the front office called to give us a heads up. Priceless, that is. He’s gotten too old to scale the trees anymore, but what he sees, know, and acts on? Priceless. I’m worried every year he’ll retire. Just thinking about it… aaaigh!… family blog word.

    ~I was just watching the third episode of ‘The Peripheral’ wondering how that future London is functioning at all with such a small population remaining.

    ~Learn a trade, any trade. Occasionally I’ll run through a mental check list of what we would have to sell or barter with if we had to, that was least dependent on the global market supply chains.

    ~We finished smoking the last salmon on Monday. Husband wanted to take one of the packages going into the freezer down to a neighbor, who popped an achilles tendon (as in detached) and is laid up in a cast. So I passed him a package I’d just wrapped and he walked it down, where he explained they could just put it in the freezer for later. The wife responded, ‘Oh no, I have bagels and cream cheese. That’s lunch!’ Then the husband said to his wife, ‘Maybe we could learn to smoke salmon?’ I find hope in these little exchanges.

    Learn a skill, teach a skill.

    1. foghorn longhorn

      Watch one, do one, teach one.
      That’s what I was taught at a young age.
      Has certainly come in handy through the years.

  22. David in Santa Cruz

    Rather than share my many personal anecdotes about the trades, let me remind readers of the deep-seated and open hostility that the PMC has toward organized labor and the working class in general.

    Many will recall the story of Bill and Hill’s first date. Slick Willie offered to pick up uncollected trash due to a strike — that he was well aware of — so that he and the future Queen of Chaos could blag their way into the shuttered Yale Art Museum to stare vacantly at a collection of equally vacuous Rothkos. I was once a dumb law student, but it’s notable that they have never expressed shame and remain proud of this betrayal of solidarity.

    It is our cultural obsession with self-selected elites, brazen displays of consumption, entitlement, and impunity that drove the Black Lives Matter movement and the January 6 insurrection. The PMC sit gob-smacked and whinge, “Why do they hate us?”

    We are going to force everyone to buy an expensive electric car that few can actually afford, but the charging infrastructure is falling apart and there are few skilled tradespeople who can safely wire a home charger or have the skills to correctly service a regenerative braking system. Neoliberalism is a death cult — but not only for the deplorables…

    1. TimH

      We are going to force everyone to buy an expensive electric car that few can actually afford

      Close. We give a discount/rebate to the PMC (the ones who actually buy vehicles new) to go electric.

      The cash for clunkers deal involved buying a new car. Again, a discount for the PMC.

  23. Adam Eran

    Ukrainian tile and plumbing workers have done miracles for me.

    One suggestion: Buy your workers lunch, or at least a coffee shop gift card. They love it!

    1. GDmofo

      About 20 years or so ago, my aunt wasnt going to be home when the cable guy was stopping by for an install. She left a note on the door saying “doors unlocked, let yourself in and help yourself to some coffee and donuts on the kitchen counter.”

      They ended up with free premium channels until the cable company switched to digital.

  24. Scylla

    As someone who has in the past worked as a general contractor (took a fed contractor job as a construction inspector/engineering technician because I was worried about keeping enough work to stay busy during the 2008 till forever recession), I think there are a great many causes here, but I will not deny you are on to something. Here are some of the things I see:
    1. Barriers to entry for new skilled tradeworkers- tools have gotten more expensive, and due to the manifold new building “systems”, you need more tools than you used to. There is also the fact that you have to find someone willing to teach you the work- many of the successful contractor outfits are family businesses, where the knowledge and experience is passed down generation to generation. Fewer and fewer individuals have the capital to get started in these lines of work.
    2. Unwillingness of many (not all, I know) property owners to pay a fair rate for a job. In many cases you see corner-cutting in an effort to keep costs acceptable to property owners. Property owners then complain about the corners being cut, but then ignore the fact that the cut-corners were a de facto decision made by the owner before the job was even started. This has become so bad, that I think many contractors are figuring in the cut-corners ahead of time when completing estimates, simply to be competitive enough to get the job- this is just one more race to the bottom.
    3. We also have to look at the society-wide denigration of the skilled trades. Anyone who works with their hands or gets dirty throughout the normal course of their work is seen as a loser by a huge portion of our society, even though these are in fact the people that are the most important to society. I also think many people see this work not as a career, but rather as something to do until something “better” comes along, so pride of work and craftsmanship have fallen aside.
    4. I think it is also important to acknowledge the problematic nature of planned obsolescence (waves at Lambert) here. Many materials, appliances, and equipment that was once designed to be worked upon throughout a very long installed lifespan simply no longer exist as such. They are designed to fail and be replaced periodically, and rather than being blamed on corporate MBAs, this is often perceived to be the fault of the installer.
    5. And finally, I think we have to acknowledge the health of the work force. Those of us who actually have accumulated a significant skill (I still do a bit on the side, so I include myself here) are aging, stressed, and decrepit thanks to our neoliberalized, corrupt health care system. Doing the work is becoming physically harder for us, and I cannot but think that this has an impact upon quality, even among the best intentioned, and most skilled.
    In short, like all of the other problems we tend to discuss on this site, this problem is structural and can be laid directly at the feet of neoliberal elites, that know nothing about how the real world works, and don’t care, as long as they themselves are sitting in comfort.

    1. JBird4049

      @November 3, 2022 at 9:38 am

      Joe Well
      @November 3, 2022 at 1:45 pm

      @November 3, 2022 at 12:18 pm

      My apologies. The longer my comment and the more I read the other comments while typing, the more I see others who have already commented on some of what I wanted to say!

      Two thousand dollars a month at least just for a room or a bad apartment. Maybe fifteen hundred for a room? There used to be areas of the North and East Bay, where housing was, not affordable, but doable. Rent a room, bunk with a friend at a cheap apartment, etc. Not anymore. There are reasons why HUD (Department of Housing and Urban Development) has listed people making over $100k per year as eligible for housing assistance. Not that they would ever get it, but according to the old formulas, they do.

      I am not very knowledgeable about this subject except to note that it used to be natives who did the work. My family, classmates, co-workers, acquaintances. Of course, when the essentially free college came, many of my family ran to it. Free, good education which doesn’t exist anymore. I had high school classmates going into the trades because why not? It paid well. It wasn’t easy and it was decades ago, but the difference in the cost of living and wages in any form of physical labor, even yard work, was not nearly as divergent then as it is now.

      It would take at least a state, and more likely federal, level effort to fix the lack of training, over and under certifications and licensing, union busting, lack of pay, and so. I am sure it could be done, but as with so much else it’s the corruption, stupid.

      But I have to ask. Why are the local elites, the PMC, allowed to decide on the training programs that do exist? It is usually a scam. “Here some funding for two years. Why only two years? It’s a pilot program. These people are in charge. Oops, pilot program doing wonders? So, sorry. So, sad. The funding been cut for “reasons.” The vampires strike again.”

      Why don’t the local unions create their own programs? If the local unions are more dead than alive, maybe revive them or create your own? Maybe look for some grant money and spend on training people could use. Yes, many people who could use the work are disabled, but there are many, many varieties of disability. Why can’t there be workarounds for that? Twenty hour work weeks instead of forty or sixty. Heck, start a cooperative. Something that works around and with what people can do instead of demanding, like so much else of businesses, perfect candidates.

      What I am trying to say is that it has been at fifty years in its creation and now we have an aging and sick population cut off from being able to get those jobs. Jobs that do not pay like they did back when. The various species of vampire squids have sucked the life out of them just like in so much of everything else including government. It is going to take not depending on them to save ourselves, and, perhaps more importantly, all those trapped without the knowledge or connections to deal with this.

      I believe that as in much else, there is a vast pool of knowable and skilled Americans who have both have the ability to work, or least teach, but most of them are old. Maybe we could do something before, like in my family, they are all dead? Just asking. I am not sure what I can do, but I am going to do some research in the next few weeks to see what. While babying my craptastic hearing aids, which like much else seem to decline not in ability, but in durability over the years.

  25. Arizona Slim

    Older women as marks? I resemble that remark!

    While I was having my house renovated, I was charmed by a handyman who was quite good at first. But then he started doing things like showing up late or not showing up at all. I ended up firing him.

    While I was in the process of firing him, I went to the owner of the contractor referral service who had sent him to me in the first place. Turns out that the referral service owner had also had enough of this handyman’s shenanigans, and he kicked him out of the network.

    So, what do I do now? I still use that referral service, and let me tell you, since I was burned by Mr. Shenanigans, the people this service has sent me have been outstanding. Top of the charts. You get the idea.

  26. Felix_47

    I think it is pay. I earned 4 dollars per hour in 1963 as a Union laborer and that included health insurance deducted to the Union and that is equivalent to 40 dollars per hour today. Carpenters were making 5.35 at the time. Plumbing was around 6 dollars per hour at the time. Masons were making around 7 as I recall. One of my responsibilities was setting up scaffolds for the masons and mixing and bringing them mortar. One thing I remember was that there was no non union labor. Nothing was delivered unless it was by a Teamster. No one ever crossed picket lines. Employers knew the rules and never argued or fought it. Quality was minimal. We worked on tract houses as fast as we could doing as little as we could. Now very little of the work for residential construction is Union. Builders contract with labor contractors to get away from workers comp litigation and employee headaches. So we contract with framers, roofers, plumbers etc. Wages are around 10 to 15 dollars per hour to labor contractors. We now subcontract each part of the job. Because of the cheap labor, mostly Mexican or Central American, newer houses are much better built than what we were doing in the 60s and 70s. When you add in the improvement in materials (1/2 inch scheetrock or more, laminated beams, better insulation and on and on) there is no question but that we are getting better quality. In those days we repaired washers and refrigerators. Now we just throw them away. And HVAC is about the same. Most of the labor is in the ducting. Assume the unit is a throwaway especially since the new laws on refrigerant make it impossible to partially replace a unit. And realize appliances and HVAC is largely an overseas industry (China) and that they have very efficient manufacturing. So repairing HVAC is a marginal business. Manufacturing has become so cheap and efficent overseas that most stuff in a house is just cheaper to remove and replace as opposed to fix. I see more integrated parts coming from China in the coming years…perhaps even prebuilt walls with windows etc. Container ships are cheap. The cost in housing is in the land which is bid up through the FIRE industry. That is a financial services, not construction services industry.

  27. Joe Well

    It’s too bad you don’t speak Spanish, because as the United States acquires Latin American levels of inequality, it is also developing many of its dysfunctions, including a prevailing “they pretend to pay us, and we pretend to work” attitude. No, we are not turning into Asia or Africa, but Latin America, our neighbors and cultural cousins.

    A delicate balance: you absolutely have to assume an adversarial attitude with workers while balancing that out with treating them very nicely and establishing that you respect them as human beings because the typical upper middle class Latin American (and now, North American) simply does not and the resentment is enormous. In fact, it’s common for cafes and other small retail businesses to have many more staff than in the US, I assume because each individual person is doing less work. Also, the spoiled upper classes expect to be waiting on hand and foot.

    I can confidently say that there is very little benefit for the average Mexican to make a life in the United States now, except for lower violent crime and greater diversity and excitement (admittedly big exceptions!). (I say making a life as opposed to saving some cash and arbitraging the cost of living when they return). The collapse in Mexican immigration to the United States proves that.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Wow, assume much?

      Alabama population:

      White: 67.50%
      Black or African American: 26.59%
      Two or more races: 2.44%
      Other race: 1.53%
      Asian: 1.39%
      Native American: 0.51%
      Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander: 0.04%

      Hispanics so scarce they aren’t even a category.

      Another breakdown does capture Hispanics, at 2.3% of the population:

      The 5 largest ethnic groups in Alabama are White (Non-Hispanic) (65.2%), Black or African American (Non-Hispanic) (26.4%), White (Hispanic) (2.26%), Two+ (Non-Hispanic) (1.94%), and Asian (Non-Hispanic) (1.38%).

      With that low a representation in the general population, all the Hispanics here speak pretty good to excellent English. And they wind up having to be pretty acculturated.

      1. Joe Well

        Sorry, I meant that the United States is becoming like Latin America in terms of inequality, and their present reality gives clues to our future. I was not referring to Latin Americans in the US.

        PS. Racial breakdowns that use US Census classifications won’t capture Hispanics/Latinos because the Census does not consider that a race but an ethnicity. But wow, that is a very low Latino population.

  28. Max

    My partner is a registered vet tech at a pretty nice, privately run clinic. It can be a really nice job, you can get in with no previous experience and a 2 year community college degree will get you the certification (which is not always needed, I think it depends on the state). It’s can be rewarding – you have to be smart, you get to make your own decisions, and you get to work with animals. With all that said though, it burns people out both emotionally and physically and the turnover is high. Lots of suicide, drug abuse and depression. It’s surprisingly physical so they get injured and then can’t take time off to go to the doctor. It pays better than some jobs but not quite enough to be comfortable. Finally and maybe most importantly, the field is getting more corporatized with big buyouts and everyone getting squeezed. The Prospect had a good article on it recently:

  29. KT

    I absolutely agree that this is a broader trend in our country. I live in a very blue collar area, was raised in a family of blue collar workers, and they make up much of my social circle today. There are a few things going on here.

    First and foremost, we’ve had multiple generations of messaging telling kids that college is the only path to success. On top of that, the trades have generally been denigrated in our culture, reinforcing this message that college is the only way to achieve a comfortable, rewarding lifestyle. This is prevalent in media, education, social interactions…everywhere.

    Second, larger companies that provide trade services like big regional players that provide HVAC, roofing, plumbing, etc. services have been financialized and crapified like every other element of our economy. Yves’ anecdote about her mom’s HVAC company perfectly illustrates this. The primary goal of these companies isn’t to provide quality work, it’s about extracting money. They treat employees and provide their service accordingly, and the results speak for themselves. Of course no one wants to work for them, especially those with enough skill to succeed on their own.

    Lastly, and this ties back to the first item, there’s been a complete erosion of the way new workers enter the industry and get the training and experience needed to become skilled tradesmen. This is due to a variety of reasons, like the death of unions reducing apprenticeship programs, illegal immigration pushing wages down at the entry level thus discouraging workers, proliferation of service industry jobs that are viewed as “easier” starter jobs for the same pay, regulations (at least in my area) that make it hard to hire employees as a small business, and many other things. This combines to steer people away from the trades.

    That doesn’t mean there aren’t skilled tradespeople, I know plenty of them. The ones that are good are booked out for months, can cherry pick the best jobs, and make extremely good money. I was brought up in a family where college was really the only option presented to me from a young age. I spent my teenage years working at an auto body shop learning how to paint cars, and became very good. The owner of the shop and the long-time employees, along with my parents, all vocally discouraged me from pursuing the work as a career. I ultimately went to college for an engineering degree and have a very successful career, but it still bothers me that I was steered away from a different path. So my two young kids are growing up knowing that both college and the trades are worthy career paths to explore and consider as they approach adulthood.

  30. Mo

    Yeah no. I live a few minutes south of SF. Labor is expensive, as are rents. But $500/hr is a wild exaggeration.

    I just had major body work done on car. This is about as skilled as it gets IMO. Perfect welding etc. I saw the insurance was reimbursing at 50-60 an hour, and giving what appeared to be stingy hours for every task. This must include overhead as well.

    I don’t have much sympathy for the “You can’t get good help these days” complaints TBH

  31. Glen

    As a very old home owner (not an SF Victorian, but almost the same age), you learn that it’s best to do everything yourself that you possibly can, or have bags of cash, and a willingness to burn it. Luckily ours is a very small homesteader’s farm house, nothing very fancy. As Tom mentions above, working with the county to get work done can be a real positive thing, especially once they understand you’re living there for the long run, not trying to do the bare minimum, and flip the property.

    Recently, we did get a new metal roof, not something I would contemplate doing myself on our house (but I will probably do all the much simpler shed roofs on our out buildings.) We selected the contractor by polling our neighbors and friends, and getting quotes. I avoided roofing contractors that had sprung up almost over night, and were called things like “Integrity” Roofing. We picked one that came highly recommended, had been around twenty+ years, and was called “Family Name” Roofing.They did a good job, they just showed up after the end of the summer (we got bids early spring so that the work would get done before the end of the summer) which can be a problem in the rainy PNW.

    As to where I work, and our ability to get and retain workers of all types? Yes, it is getting difficult to get good workers which is not surprising. Twenty years ago we had an excellent work force in the factories, but leadership devoted much time and energy into wrecking our work force, and leadership was successful. I still don’t think leadership has realized that the world has changed, and their work force paradigm is dead.

    As to the attitudes and work habits of younger workers? I think the fish rots from the head. All the way through school, they can see that what once was a good middle class job, being a teacher, is now the benchmark for under paid and overworked. They have been taught by example over and over that the system is rigged, and the American dream is effectively dead. They have a better chance of making big money by interacting with YT or TT on their phone. Something I don’t understand, but it is what it is.

  32. Copeland

    I live in a small city in Oregon that nobody has ever hear of, and yet it still seems to be one of the fastest growing towns in the Willamette Valley, a lot of new houses being built. Our house was built in 2021 and we’ve had the pleasure of watching all of the houses go up on all sides of us and continuing as new streets are built out. Very few of the tradesman/contractors speak English, a lot of what sounds like Russian/Ukrainian and of course a lot of Spanish. The framing crew right behind us did speak English. They were constantly in discussion about how they were going to do something or other, like it was their first time. Some of the rafters (these are all pre-built to spec and delivered these days) were not cooperating and had to be convinced to fit, with huge sledge hammers and a sawzall. Didn’t seem like these framers had much experience. This is the third house I’ve built and it never goes perfectly, they really messed some things up this time too, most of which we caught and they fixed, but when you get near the finish line some errors sneak through and its too late to fix them. Overall I would say the quality is pretty good but probably worse that the other two builds. I do have to add that plenty of stuff went wrong after moving in with the first two, so far with this one the only problem has been a loose gas fitting at the gas cooktop.

    1. Angie Neer

      As many of my friends from the SF Bay and Seattle areas reach retirement, flush with capital gains from those absurd housing markets, a LOT of them are moving into new houses in the Willamette Valley. I probably know some of your new neighbors.

  33. Zephyrum

    “The society which scorns excellence in plumbing as a humble activity and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because it is an exalted activity will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy: neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water.”
    — John W. Gardner in Excellence: Can We Be Equal and Excellent Too? (1961)

  34. jackiebass63

    We went through years where all of the emphases was on encouraging students to attend college , even though many weren’t qualified.As a teacher I knew many students that were skilled in things like repairing a car or building something. Many times they didn’t do well in their academic classes.Unfortunately they were still pushed into college prep courses instead of the trades. Many got frustrated and dropped out.They ended up working at low paying jobs. NYS was probably one of the worst states in not supporting education in the trades.The result was we ended up with large numbers of working poor along with a lot of wasted talent.

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