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Philosophers and Plumbers

Allow me to introduce myself; my name is Jack Hope and I own Hope Plumbing in Indianapolis, Indiana. I want to speak briefly about education, the economy, and the skilled tradesperson. While I acknowledge that my education has helped to make me who I am, I would like to challenge the notion that everyone should go to college.

With the help of two loving parents, I graduated from a private high school in Indianapolis, and went on to pursue an undergraduate degree from Indiana University, which was also paid for by my parents. From there, I earned my Masters degree, also from IU, in Philosophy with a Special Concentration in Bioethics. During this time, I became the Philosophy Department's teaching assistant, which allowed me to design and teach my own courses. As a result, in addition to receiving a small stipend, my own tuition was also paid for.

I have subsequently gone on to instruct philosophy and ethics courses at two prominent educational institutions, and now, I currently own a successful plumbing business in Indianapolis.

I want you to ask yourself a set of questions. How many college-educated people do you know that work in a job that requires substantially less education? How many college-educated people do you know that can't find jobs at all? How many people do you know who do not work in a field from which their degree came? How many college educated people do you know that can't afford their student loan payments? If you are at all like me, you know plenty.

As noted in a recent Business Insider article,"the pool of college graduates is growing more than twice as fast as the pool of jobs requiring a college degree."

Now, ask yourself another set of questions. How many skilled tradespeople do you know that work in a job that requires substantially less education? How many skilled tradespeople do you know that can't find jobs at all? How many skilled tradespeople do you know who do not work in a field from which their degree came? How many skilled tradespeople do you know that cannot afford their student loans? It you are at all like me, you do not know any. But for many of you, sadly, that may be because you just do not know any tradespeople.

If you don't really know a skilled tradesperson or what it means to be one, I will tell you. A skilled tradesperson is simply a person who works in a skilled trade. Licensed plumbers, electricians, mechanics, insulators and drywall installers are all great examples of skilled tradespeople. A skilled tradesperson typically spends time, following high school, in an apprenticeship program and when it is complete, earns a license in his or her trade.

No matter what you think about the economy, we can all agree that a stronger, safer, more diversified and growing economy is something we all want. How do we obtain such an economy? For starters, people need jobs. People need jobs that allow them to pay the bills, have a little fun and save some money for later. This can be really hard to do if you have $8,000 in student loan payments each year and a job that pays $38,000 per year.

So what do we do? We need to again start telling people that it is okay (and even admirable) to get their hands dirty. Manual labor is not evil. Have you ever considered that most people in the United States can no longer really fix anything? How many people do you know that can repair their own toilet, change the oil in their own car, or even simply change a tire? What happened to teaching young people how to fix stuff? We have long been a nation that prides itself on hard work. Put down the iPad and help your kids take something apart. If we want people to find jobs, let us figure out how to get people the skills needed for the jobs that exist today, and 5 or 10 years down the road.

"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

Every time I talk to someone about plumbing, they comment on how gross it must be and every time I reply, "that is why they pay us the big bucks." People, of course, think I am kidding, but the average starting salary for a licensed plumber in our shop is $45,000 per year with full health benefits, life insurance, a paid cell phone, a take home vehicle and matched retirement savings.

While that may not be big bucks for some of you big shots, a new report from the National Association of Colleges and Employers finds that just three liberal arts majors had average starting salaries that topped $40,000 in 2012. The average cost of tuition for a college degree from a private college is about $127,000 and the average cost of tuition for a degree from a public college is about $37,800. On the other hand, the average cost of a (4) year apprenticeship program for a plumber in Indiana is $5,800 and an employer will often cover those costs for a good employee. We require all of our technicians to attend the apprenticeship program and those costs are covered in full.

What Hope Plumbing needs, and what the economy needs, is large amounts of skilled tradespeople that are ready to go to work. Please don't get me wrong, I think that a Liberal Arts degree can be fantastic for the right person, but I challenge the notion that everyone needs a bachelor's degree. One of the largest problems that Hope Plumbing has (as well as most other skilled trades businesses) has, boils down to finding qualified tradespeople. Find me a person with a few years of experience, a little bit of personality and a plumbing license and I will find them a job. Find me a person with little to no experience, massive amounts of personality and a Liberal Arts degree and I will have an engaging conversation with them about the "original position" most recently espoused by John Rawls in Justice as Fairness and the irony of mentioning it here.

Stop being lazy, back away from the computer screen, pick up a hammer and learn how to build something.

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