by Tom Finan, Executive Director, Construction Forum STL
“I wish it need not have happened in my time," said Frodo.
"So do I," said Gandalf, "and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
-J.R.R Tolkien, from "The Fellowship of the Ring"
We were fortunate to have a gathering of friends in our living room this past Saturday who believe in the future of our industry, our region, and our nation. We are concerned about the events of recent weeks, but we are optimistic. We were celebrating both lives well lived and the shared belief that using the time given us well is an obligation.
Our guests included a construction educator married to a corporate veteran; a husband and wife team representing the construction industry to St. Louis' immigrant community; and a couple, both highly-skilled foreign-born professionals, he with a history of working as a technical expert for multinational corporations and she with a doctoral degree in a medical specialization that she can't use in St. Louis because of registration hurdles. My wife is a healthcare educator.
It promised from the beginning to be an interesting evening, primarily because it was very diverse group of people who had important things in common. We had ostensibly gathered because one of our party and I had both celebrated 65th birthdays a day apart last week. Much of the conversation centered around getting to know one another better. There was talk of first dates, and the strange and interesting paths that the couples had taken to finding one another.
But the common thread was that everyone in the room cares passionately about young people. They believe that everyone in our region and in our country should have an opportunity to participate in the economy and to prosper. The work represented by the people in that room included bringing people from at-risk backgrounds into the trades, to outreach in the Hispanic communities, to helping newly arrived immigrants acclimate, to training future healthcare providers to connect with and have empathy with our region's poorest people.
I reminded the construction educator of a telephone call he made to me the morning after the election. "What did you think of that ****storm last night?," he asked.
"I think that the sun still came up today and we have more work to do than ever, " I replied. The group in our living room Saturday all believe in the need to keep on working to make tomorrow better. None of us, even the oldest, are intent on the notion of retiring. We have found what we love to do. It is rewarding to work for a better future, particularly in challenging times like these.
Not Losing the Young People
Helping young people understand how to love what you do for a living was also part of our discussion. The biggest challenges, we agreed, lie in helping our young people, from whatever their background, understand what it means to find your way to a meaningful career.
Two of us had heard Mike Rowe, who hosted Dirty Jobs and is now the host of Somebody's Gotta Do It on NPR that morning. Rowe has the mikeroweWORKS Foundation (www.ProfoundlyDisconnected.com), which rewards people with a passion to get trained for skilled jobs that actually exist. As CEO of the Foundation, Rowe spends a significant amount of time speaking about the country’s dysfunctional relationship with work, highlighting the widening skills gap, and challenging the persistent belief that a four-year degree is automatically the best path for the most people.
On NPR Rowe said that we have created a misconception among young people that they are going to find the "perfect job" right out of the box. He said that it was a little bit like the notion of a "soulmate." The girl who rejected a guy while in her '20s because he didn't like to ride bikes might find herself 20 years later saying, "That guy was really nice. I wish I had given him a try."
Rowe said that when he hung out for a beer with the managers he met on his television shows, they always told him they had a hard time, "Finding people willing to learn a skill that's in demand, that show up early, stay late, and good-naturedly take a bite of the poop sandwich when it comes around. I'm paraphrasing."
Of helping young people to find a way to occupy their time on earth in meaningful fashion, Rowe said, "The first thing to do is to look around and see where everyone else is headed, and then go the other direction. The second thing to do is to embrace the thing that scares you, frightens you, or otherwise makes you blanch. The third thing to do is to become really really good at that thing. And the final thing, that makes really happy people happy, is to figure out a way to love it."
As Gandalf said to Frodo, we have to decide what to do with the time that is given us.