When the Welders Came to Capitol Hill

America needs more welders, and recently a delegation of them went to Washington to tell policy-makers so. Congressman Tom Suozzi of New York wrote about their visit in the Wall Street Journal:

I’m sitting in my Capitol Hill office a few weeks ago, meeting with three well-dressed, well-spoken young men who earn salaries in the high five and low six figures.

You see the type a lot in Washington, but these guys are different. They’re not lobbyists. They don’t represent Wall Street or any Fortune 500 companies. They’re welders.

Rep. Suozzi was impressed:

America needs more of them and what they represent: good jobs at good wages. Last month I held a roundtable with suppliers in the aeronautic and defense industries, who told me they cannot find enough computer machinists. It sounds like an intimidating job, but according to these companies, trade schools and community colleges teach the specific skills needed.

The welders who visited Rep. Suozzi helped to broaden his perspective on the kind of post-secondary education our nation needs more of in the coming decade. Suozzi explained:

Policy experts, economists and politicians (including me) have pushed college education as the solution [to our nation’s economic problems]. We’ve argued the more you learn, the more you earn.

Yet minting more college graduates in the STEM subjects—science, technology, engineering and math—is only half the story. The other half ought to be creating jobs that can be filled by graduates of high schools, trade schools, community colleges and union apprenticeships.

The welders in my office seemed almost sheepish when I asked how they came to the trade. The common theme was that they didn’t do well In school. I’ll tell you what I told them: They’re amazing.

At 22, 29 and 32 they are making more than many graduates of college or even law school. They take the work that’s offered, even if it means leaving home at 4:30 a.m. and driving an hour and a half. They like their jobs and are good at them.

Rep. Suozzi ended his reflections this way:

The policy debates in Washington—over the corporate tax, the income tax, regulatory reform, infrastructure spending—should be centered on creating positions like these. Republicans and Democrats should pledge to work together to create and fill, by 2020, five million new jobs that pay at least $80,000 a year.

It’s important to add, of course, that many skilled, well-paying jobs that don’t require a four-year degree exist right now, and employers are struggling to fill them. Perhaps what our nation needs most is renewed respect for the men and women who do these jobs, and who are vital to our continued economic prosperity.