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UDH: A Valuable School of Higher Education

UDH: A Valuable School of Higher Education

Each morning, the Milton Construction crew starts the day at 7:30 a.m. with a brief powwow. This often includes reading from the Bible or some other inspiring words and praying for our day. Recently, we “watched a film-strip” (remember those exciting days in elementary school... then you are as old as I am!) We watched twelve brief videos from Mike Rowe (from the series Dirty Jobs) about the S.W.E.A.T. Pledge where Rowe, in his unique story-telling style, highlights what he calls “the skills gap”.

Rowe describes the skills gap as the current state of affairs where high school students are encouraged to go to college (accumulating significant debt) while “shovel-ready” jobs in the trades are seen as settling for less than the ideal. Rowe insists, and I agree, many are missing a golden opportunity. Please don’t misunderstand — if your career path requires you to study at the university, your hard work at furthering your education is a noble and necessary task. I agree with Mike and my perspective from someone who went to college to get that degree and now works a blue-collar job.

As a kid, I remember climbing on bulldozers and large mounds of dirt around the job sites of my dad’s construction company. As a teenager I was employed as a gofer (go for this, go for that) during the summers. But with no compelling vision for the future and no interest whatsoever in a career in construction, I headed off to college. Not that I necessarily needed to go to college, or had any plan of what to do, but because that is what you did. Learn your Dad’s business — how lame!

Now, certainly, my college education and experience were not without value. There is much truth to, “you’ll figure it out as you go along.” After college, I embarked on my first career, which like all ventures, contributes to your knowledge and experience in helpful ways. However, it wasn’t until my wife and I purchased our first home (built circa 1893), which required much ongoing maintenance and renovation work, these latent talents for carpentry and a desire to change course started to emerge.

So, in 2006, nearly a decade after graduating college, I made the decision to go and pursue a career with Dad — learning how to run a construction company. With my bachelor’s degree in psychology, I was crawling under houses, digging trenches, driving nails, cleaning up job sites, and all the other things that up and coming psychologists do. And all with a nice cut in pay from my previous position. Despite several attempts to resign from this plan, and a national recession to boot, a vision for satisfaction and success slowly started to emerge. It required perseverance, experiences of failure and more and more education (from books and the street). I now find myself, 14 years later, owning and enjoying a profitable and thriving business while my Dad enjoys his time not running a construction business. And I write to all you young men and women who may be reading to strongly consider a blue-collar career which can be immensely satisfying and financially rewarding.

I recall a faint breeze of this national conversation just before I moved in 2006. A contractor I was acquainted with told me not many young men and women were entering the trades such as construction and, therefore, in the future they could “name their price”! “Hmmm?”, I thought. This wise craftsman was not the only one noticing this. More recently, I have become familiar with initiatives such as the Mike Rowe Works Foundation and #KeepCraftAlive. Even radio host Clark Howard has a list of “12 Jobs That Don’t Require A Four-Year Degree and Pay At Least $70K a Year”.

Having weathered several years to get to the point at which I currently reside with satisfaction, gratitude, and plenitude — I want to tell you it is true. You can be very happy and successful working in construction or any other blue-collar trade. It was not easy and there were a few years where the business almost conked. One of the secrets of success is that your education never stops. As a matter of fact, I have learned more out of college than in college.

Adding to the skills gap, I see a plague of ineptitude and slackness afflicting many industries. There is a golden-opportunity available to all Americans, especially the younger ones, to learn a good work ethic that will take you far. (I highly recommend Mike Rowe’s S.W.E.A.T. Pledge as a great place to start.) What I am saying applies not only to construction, but to all “blue-collar” trades: electricians, plumbers, auto mechanics, house cleaners, retail merchants, computer technicians, government employees — an almost endless array of rewarding and satisfying careers. Rewarding and satisfying because you have the opportunity to provide a valuable service to your community, work alongside other great folks, strive to present a professional and diligent work ethic, and best of all, make a profit doing it.

My Dad always joked he went to college at UDH. That stands for “Under the Damn House.” This historic institute of “higher” education now is accepting applications from those interested in hard and intelligent work in a wide variety of endeavors.

I’m currently enrolled in the graduate program and hope to see you on campus soon.

Todd Milton owns Milton Construction Company and lives in Appomattox.

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