GSElevator: Meet Jack the Plumber/Philosopher

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Rank: Baboon | banana points 143

Over the weekend, I came across an editorial by Jack Hope, a philosopher turned philosopher/plumber, that puts a name and face to a question that has garnered a reasonable amount of attention in recent months - Should a college degree still be hailed as a key barometer of achievement, and, with few exceptions, a prerequisite to, and trophy of, the American dream?

As Jack illustrates, forgoing college in lieu of learning a trade isn't about embracing mediocrity; it's just plain common economic sense, particularly in light of the current employment dynamic. Considering that 80% of Americans view themselves to be 'above average', this might be a tough pill for many to swallow. But, once we are able to overcome any social stigma, it will undoubtedly make all of us better off.

Jack the Philosopher/Plumber writes:

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.

Jack Hope

It's refreshing to see that Jack the Plumber is not Joe the Plumber. He doesn't politicize the issue or talk about how many people he employs, the ramifications of ObamaCare, or lament a lack of understanding on the part of east coast liberals. It's simply a common sense and practical real-world viewpoint and recommendation in the context of the world we live in, and what, in all likelihood, the world will look like five or ten years from now.

While I think Jack's message succinctly encapsulates this message better than any statistic, this is clearly a topic that has received considerable attention of late, particularly in the context of long-term underemployment. The oft brusque Mayor Bloomberg caught heat recently for saying that people should consider skipping college to be a plumber or to master another in-demand skill or craft. The statistics (taken from Richard Vedder’s excellent essay on the subject), it seems, are very much in Bloomberg's (and Jack's) favor, particularly for those that do not excel at a handful of elite colleges and universities:

  • 48% of employed U.S. college graduates are in jobs that the Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests requires less than a four-year college education.
  • 33% of college graduates said they did not feel that college had fully prepared them for the working world, and 55% said they'd choose a different school or a different major if they could do it again.
  • Youth unemployment is at its highest level since WW2; not to mention 35% of Millennials - those born in the 80s or 90s - still live with their parents.
  • 32% of graduates from the past two years reported a current salary of less than $25k.
  • The average student debt has doubled in the last 10 years, to $40k, and it's only going in one direction.
  • And considering that 45% of those entering college fail to graduate within six years, why do too many kids even bother?

Most amazingly, only 30 million jobs exist in America that require a college education, and there are currently more than 60 million Americans with a college degree. Furthermore, over the next 7 years, the number of Americans with a Bachelors Degree is projected to increase by 30% (19 million), while the number of jobs requiring a college degree by only 14% (7 million).

"LinkedIn is the Match.com of the underemployed."@GSElevator

Hence, more and more college graduates are crowding out High School graduates in traditionally blue-collar, low-skilled jobs - working in The Gap, at Starbucks, or as a bartender.

A great way of articulating this:

"Suppose in 1970, a bar owner advertised for a bartender and received 15 applicants, most or all of whom had high school diplomas. He would most likely choose the bartender on criteria unrelated to educational credentials. Suppose today, another bar owner likewise advertises for a bartender, and also gets 15 applicants, but four have bachelor's degrees. The owner, to minimize time and resources devoted to interviewing a long line of applicants, might restrict interviews to the four holders of degrees, since it is likely a priori that these persons will on average be a little smarter, a little more reliable, etc., than the other applicants. Education, heretofore not much of a screening device, has become one in terms of hiring the most qualified person for jobs for which skill requirements are relatively modest and learned on the job quickly. The existence of an ample supply of college graduate bartenders has created a demand for them."[i]

From this, one might conclude that a college degree is necessary now more than ever, just to compete for jobs that traditionally would not require a college degree. This logic is fine if you want to be a college-educated barista or bartender.

"Thanks to the economic crisis, bartending got upgraded from a job to a career." - @GSElevator

As has clearly been stated and supported statistically, a technical degree is likely to be more financially valuable than a liberal arts degree - both today, and in all likelihood, ten years from now. Some of the fastest growing job categories are currently in middle-skill positions that do not require a four-year education. Plumber, nurse, electrician, real estate broker, air-traffic controller - the list goes on and on...

Study for four years, rack up tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, and then struggle to find meaningful employment... Or very quickly become an electrician, nurse, or plumber. Can you say opportunity cost? The 2012 median pay for plumbers was almost $49,000, while the median pay for all occupations was slightly more than $33,000. Moreover, the top 10% of plumbers earn more than $79,000, and the job segment is projected to grow 26% through 2020, with new construction and a wave of baby boomer retirements among older plumbers spurring employment.

Shouldn't we be telling our average students to start a career as a plumber, and aim to one day own a fleet of plumbing trucks?

We can expect that, over time, market forces will solve the problem. But in the meantime, people need to wake up. This naive, elitist ”college for all” dream is the simply the wrong mantra. Its wrong for the individuals chasing this dream, and it's wrong for America. We need to be talking about “appropriate skills for all” instead.

Comments (27)

Sep 16, 2013

Damn, slap that in the NYT.

Also, just a curious thought. If so many college grads are working at Starbucks, Gap, Subway, etc... why is it they are so fucking retarded? Are we to assume they came from a non-target?

Sep 16, 2013

This isn't rocket science. As is pointed out in the article, our parents shit generation has ingrained in our generation that everyone is special and everyone deserves a shot at greatness. This isn't the case. All this has done is increased per capita debt, decreased per capita spending power and diluted the value of a college degree forcing a lot of people to go back and get their masters or even PhD - resulting in even more debt, just so they can stand out in an applicant pool.

I have said several times on this site that we are going to see a transition to the trades as current people working in them begin to retire or die off. Ultimately, you will see a carpenter making that six figure salary and someone with a college education struggle to reach that threshold. It is simple supply and demand.

Seriously, take a step back and ask yourself have you truly worked a job in your life that required a college education? A lot of stuff your "finance degree" taught you isn't really applicable to how companies operate. Theoretically, you could have learned everything you do today with several months of training.

I have long been a fan of deciding what you want to do in life and diving into it - similar to trades. If you want to become an accountant, dedicate your time to learning the craft. There is no reason to dump 100k on an "education" that forces you to take electives like art history for the sake of crafting a "well rounded person".

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Sep 16, 2013
Nefarious-:

Theoretically, you could have learned everything you do today with several months of training.

".

Yes specific skills can be taught quickly but don't underestimate the amount of intangibles you learn during the ~4year college experience, not to mention growth/maturity/socializing + taking time to think about what it is you want to focus on / do with your life

WSO's COO (Chief Operating Orangutan) | My Linkedin

Sep 16, 2013

I learned how to bong a beer in 2 seconds and that if you bong 6 beers at once, your stomach can't fit all the foam. Intangibles like that?

Sep 16, 2013

sounds pretty innocent, ever live outside the dorms?

WSO's COO (Chief Operating Orangutan) | My Linkedin

Sep 16, 2013
AndyLouis:

sounds pretty innocent, ever live outside the dorms?

Oh snap

Sep 16, 2013
AndyLouis:
Nefarious-:

Theoretically, you could have learned everything you do today with several months of training.

".

Yes specific skills can be taught quickly but don't underestimate the amount of intangibles you learn during the ~4year college experience, not to mention growth/maturity/socializing + taking time to think about what it is you want to focus on / do with your life

Without a doubt the greatest thing I took away from college was bar and drink knowledge and how to drink like a world champion. Everything else knowledge wise or worldly, I explored or taught myself.

Sure, I learned a lot as an econ major, but all of that was proven in the regurgitation of knowledge on a test - it wasn't until I took a personal interest in the subject and explored it further than what was presented in class that I truly learned something.

Sep 16, 2013

Intangibles?

Is that why your skills are so soft?

Sep 16, 2013
Nefarious-:

our parents shit generation

This characterization made me laugh out loud.

Rest of your post is dead on. +1.

Sep 17, 2013
Nefarious-:
Nefarious-:

Theoretically, you could have learned everything you do today with several months of training.

It depends on the job requirements/major. For areas of business/finance focused on soft skills, you don't need a degree. But for technical/engineering degrees this is absolutely not the case.

Sep 16, 2013
John150:
Nefarious-:
Nefarious-:

Theoretically, you could have learned everything you do today with several months of training.

It depends on the job requirements/major. For areas of business/finance focused on soft skills, you don't need a degree. But for technical/engineering degrees this is absolutely not the case.

Disagree. Engineering and architecture could absolutely be taught as a trade - learning everything you need to know through practical application.

Examples: Plenty of successful self taught programmers.

Famous pieces of engineering or architecture thought up and created throughout human history without the assistance of college education.

Sep 17, 2013
Nefarious-:
John150:
Nefarious-:
Nefarious-:

Theoretically, you could have learned everything you do today with several months of training.

It depends on the job requirements/major. For areas of business/finance focused on soft skills, you don't need a degree. But for technical/engineering degrees this is absolutely not the case.

Disagree. Engineering and architecture could absolutely be taught as a trade - learning everything you need to know through practical application.

Examples: Plenty of successful self taught programmers.

Famous pieces of engineering or architecture thought up and created throughout human history without the assistance of college education.

Perhaps it's better worded as a "college-level" education. You can attain that level of understanding by being an active autodidact or attending college.

However, suggesting that most technical trades can be mastered in mere months is untrue.

Virtually all programmers are self-taught. The constant rise and fall of platforms, languages, and paradigms demands it. That said, mastery takes time. There's a reason mission critical applications aren't written by novices (or at least aren't supposed to be).

Sep 16, 2013

Actually, to be fair, with the quant stuff presented in college, like econometrics, it was almost impossible to learn in class because, while my professors were geniuses, English was not a primary (probably not even a secondary) language for any of them.

Sep 16, 2013

I believe Super Mario Bros. Prepared an entire generation for the plumbing profession.

I hope this is better than the last batch of shit you gave me. Produced more wood than Ron Jeremy. I don't want you to yell, "Reco!" anymore. Know what you should yell? "Timber!" Yeah, Mr. Fuckin' wood.

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Sep 16, 2013

People going to college is a good idea, I'm not sure why anyone would argue against having a generally well educated public. Is it a cost issue? If so, address that. I shudder when I hear people say that less people should be going to college, all it says to me is that the general level of ignorance will increase. I worked as a bartender with a college degree, and guess what? I had the option to leave for grad school and look for jobs that required degrees. My coworkers? Not so much, they'll never have the opportunities I have unless they go to college. So what if my job at the time didn't require college: I was better educated and this enabled me to make more money than the non-college crowd, actually, as much as twice some of my coworkers. I could hold a conversation better with my elders, solve problems better, and pull from a larger network of associations than the non-college crowd. And when I didn't want to do that job anymore, I had the option to look for a way into corporate America...many of my old coworkers can't do that. How screwed are they that they said "I don't need college at this point in my life" and didn't get any education beyond high school? When I go back to hang out, I tell some of the younger kids all the time: just go to school, you'll thank yourself later in life. Don't go to an expensive school if you don't have a need for it, and get good grades. Then the world is your oyster.

There's another misconception: you CAN'T get some blue collar jobs anymore without college. Police, firemen, etc ave all started requiring college degrees as they realize that educated folks make better decisions. It may come as a shock to the severely myopic viewpoint of many on this site, but getting a BA in fire studies from a local school is cheap and yeilds a fireman that saves your life a whole lot better because they're more than some trained chimp: they're highly educated professionals, and have more to offer.

And the college crowd works every bit as hard, side by side with the old school. They utilize the wisdom and experience of the elders, and the elders are valued for it. This is true of many professions: just look at how business and computers follow the same pattern.

I think that a lot of people would do well to look at the Stars system in place in Jersey: if you keep your grades up, getting your associates from a community college is paid for by the state..and the tab is dirt cheap. Most of these kids then transfer to other schools to finish their bachelor's degrees, and for those that aren't interested in college careers, they can drop out and get plumbing jobs with minimal pain. This is just one possible way of many to keep costs down.

The secondary effects of having more educated people in a nation are immense, and I don't think it's a good idea to look at college solely as a job factory. Remember that the whole concept of college originated with wealthy people sending their kids to be better educated to take over the family businesses they were going to inherit anyway. Before that, colleges were generally seminaries that aside from training clergy, also persued intellectual development for its own sake. That the current dynamic has resulted in colleges being run for their own benefit is probably a mistake, and innovationes like the $7K masters in computers from GA are probably going to reshape the whole educational system. I don't see more and more people getting educated as a bad thing, in fact I see it as a good thing.

But I do see the growth in costs to do so as a very serious problem. It would help if STEM training were incentivized to a greater extent as well. I find it somewhat disturbing that America would have this conversation of educating less of its own citizens while importing ever greater numbers of international students with the intention of training them for the technology sector. Stop and think about the future we're creating: we should be encouraging America kids to study more STEM majors, and doing so at universities that can deliver cheaply. This isn't a stupid/lazy function as much as it is bad governance. Why not just do what works?

What is it with self proclaimed elitists hawking this ignorant notion that too many people are getting further education? Why would 'leaders' want people to be ingorant aside from making it easier to control them? That's tyranny via ignorance, and has been used by despotic power systems throughout all of history. How can we be saying this when certain jobs have huge shortfalls in viable candidates? If anything, the focus should be shifted onto STEM training, not talking people out of college all together.

You can't even survive well if you're stupid and ignorant in today's world. A carpenter will have to understand many things beyond sawing and hammering in order to do really well in life...how to use computers, basic financing, etc... It doesn't help that (mostly) corporate America has taken to requiring degrees for entry level admin positions, but if the amount of degrees shrinks we'll see that requirement go away as well by default, so it's kind of a non factor. Not everyone who goes to college should be seen as future elites, and most people don't actually want to be hardcore bankers....there's plenty of middle ground that college will help with in the space between landcaper and quantitative financier. And there's plenty of room to retool the system before it breaks the bank. Or knowing American culture, we'll wait until the problem is at crisis proportions before meaningful reforms are made. It's kind of how we roll, for better or for worse.

Am I missing something? Have we reached the moronic point in American public discourse where we're arguing in favor of ignorance? Is America really approaching literal idiocracy?

Instead of arguing that less people should be educated, we should as a civilization be taking the approach that technology can be used to educate people in ever greater numbers and quality, in more relevant fields, for far lower costs.

What I see is a reversal in one of the universal trends that has kept America going for so long: encouraging ever greater levels of sophistication among the long term residents and welcoming new residents into the bottom rung. We have millions of non-citizens working here for the first time in American history...and it's not like Mexico magically appeared out of nowhere a few decades ago. This is the culmination of very shortsighed and stupid policymaking in Washington, fed by lobbies with short term interests and fools running off of strict conservative and liberal ideologies. People have become so shortsighted and partisan, they pigheadedly argue against plainly good ideas, mostly just to be spiteful. I think a lof of Americans have become almost totally full of shit, and they're not even happy like this. So let's just get real. Stop making excuses. America is waking up from the bad dream and realizing: let's just do what we've always done.

Welcome more people into the ranks of citizenship. That base level is like a breeding estuary for a fishery, all of our major developments as a nation have sprung forth from those seeking to elevate themselves, and it's the backbone of the labor force. The most motivated will far exceed their default station in life. Encourage the already resident folks to push their kids into the next wave of administrative/supervisory and professional work. It is impossible to send the youth the conflicting messages of "you must innovate and compete in a high tech and heavily interconnected world, but you must get a lesser job, and you must innovate without knowledge, and therefore college is not worth it" and expect anything but confusion. College is only one part of the equation, as is labor. This pattern of taking in each new wave of immigration and fostering yet higher achievement among the children of citizens has served us for several hundred years. How the hell we've arrived where we are as a nation is irrelevant in my eyes. Just get back on track.

It's not hard or complicated, it just requires the will to do so.

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Sep 16, 2013

You didn't have better conversations and get bigger tips because you went to college, you did so because you were probably smarter. Going to college was not the cause.

Sep 16, 2013

Sorry for all the syntactical errors, I only had a couple of minutes to type out, and no time to edit :/

Sep 16, 2013

"Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid."

-Einstein

mbavsmfin:

I don't wear watches bro. Because it's always MBA BALLER time!

Sep 16, 2013
B4SH:

"Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid."

-Einstein

I like that quote, but I'm pretty sure that wasn't said by Albert Einstein, lol. I actually looked up the passage from one of Einstein's books that this misattribution may have been inspired by, although the meaning is a little different.

Albert Einstein:

Of what is significant in one's own existence one is hardly aware, and it certainly should not bother the other fellow. What does a fish know about the water in which he swims all his life? The bitter and the sweet come from the outside, the hard from within, from one's own efforts. For the most part I do the thing which my own nature drives me to do. It is embarrassing to earn so much respect and love for it. Arrows of hate have been shot at me too; but they never hit me, because somehow they belonged to another world, with which I have no connection whatsoever.

- Out of My Later Years, pg.5

Sep 16, 2013
Going Concern:
B4SH:

"Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid."

-Einstein

I like that quote, but I'm pretty sure that wasn't said by Albert Einstein, lol. I actually looked up the passage from one of Einstein's books that this misattribution may have been inspired by, although the meaning is a little different.

Albert Einstein:

Of what is significant in one's own existence one is hardly aware, and it certainly should not bother the other fellow. What does a fish know about the water in which he swims all his life? The bitter and the sweet come from the outside, the hard from within, from one's own efforts. For the most part I do the thing which my own nature drives me to do. It is embarrassing to earn so much respect and love for it. Arrows of hate have been shot at me too; but they never hit me, because somehow they belonged to another world, with which I have no connection whatsoever.

- Out of My Later Years, pg.5

https://gs1.wac.edgecastcdn.net/8019B6/data.tumblr...

Sep 16, 2013

Damn, the interwebs got me again. Reminds me of the pinterest guy who gave credit to Taylor Swift for Hitler quotes.

mbavsmfin:

I don't wear watches bro. Because it's always MBA BALLER time!

Sep 16, 2013
UFOinsider:

People going to college is a good idea, I'm not sure why anyone would argue against having a generally well educated public.

Is it too much to ask that people be sufficiently educated to the public's standards after 13 years of compulsory education?

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Sep 16, 2013
moneymogul:
UFOinsider:

People going to college is a good idea, I'm not sure why anyone would argue against having a generally well educated public.

Is it too much to ask that people be sufficiently educated to the public's standards after 13 years of compulsory education?

That is why his argument is inherently flawed. He assumes three things:

1) Everyone going to college is as motivated and determined as every member of this board
2) Everyone going to college is majoring in a value added subject that can help humanity or keep capitalism afloat
3) Every University actually offers "higher education"

Sep 17, 2013
moneymogul:
UFOinsider:

People going to college is a good idea, I'm not sure why anyone would argue against having a generally well educated public.

Is it too much to ask that people be sufficiently educated to the public's standards after 13 years of compulsory education?

No, not with the shitty baby boomer teachers doing bare minimum just to make pension.

Fuck em. I don't give a fuck that you were drafted into a war. Especially if you're fucking over a generation of kids when a young teacher can do a 10x better job.

Sep 17, 2013
moneymogul:
UFOinsider:

People going to college is a good idea, I'm not sure why anyone would argue against having a generally well educated public.

Is it too much to ask that people be sufficiently educated to the public's standards after 13 years of compulsory education?

No, not with the shitty baby boomer teachers doing bare minimum just to make pension.

Fuck em. I don't give a fuck that you were drafted into a war. Especially if you're fucking over a generation of kids when a young teacher can do a 10x better job.

Sep 16, 2013
Sep 17, 2013