A few thoughts to ponder

As I listened to whether there is a  need for welders and other trades and a workforce training school to be located here at last week’s public hearing concerning Texarkana College’s proposed annexation, I was suddenly reminded of an interview I did four years ago with John Ratzenberger.
The actor, best known for portraying Cliff Clavin on the long-running TV series Cheers and for being the go-to voice actor for all Pixar movies, is a huge proponent of bringing awareness to the fact that this country is facing some serious skilled labor shortages. That’s because the median age of workers in many manufacturing jobs is creeping higher and higher.
“If we run out of plumbers, that’s fairly serious,” Ratzenberger told me in 2012. “If your sink doesn’t work and the toilet doesn’t flush, what do you do? We can do without actors or basketball players, but we can’t run out of plumbers or electricians or truck drivers because they are essential. I call them essential because we would miss them overnight if they disappeared.”
Ratzenberger has a huge interest in skilled labor. For five seasons, he was the host of the Made in America documentary series on the Travel Channel. The show regularly featured American factories, Ratzenberger said it was doing the series that he become alarmed about the aging workforce in manufacturing.
“When we first started doing that we would visit a factory floor and I started noticing the age of the workers and I started asking questions,” Ratzenberger said. “I started asking the CEOs about the young people, and they would say, ‘Young people have no skills. They don’t know how to measure things or use any kind of tools.’ That used to be done naturally. That was just part of the middle school curriculum all over the country.”
Ratzenberger, though now a high-paid celebrity,  comes from a blue-collar background.  His father was a truck driver and Ratzenberger framed houses before becoming an actor. 
“I was a carpenter, and my dad was a truck driver and a pretty handy mechanic, too,” Razenberger said. “This is what builds civilizations; it’s not actors, writers or tap dancers. It was people who could make things. Manufacturing is to America what spinach is to Popeye. Without it, we are done. It is simple as that. We’re finished.”
At that time, Ratzenberger became involved in several labor initiatives, and he continues to carry the torch for more skilled labor training.
He often uses humor to help drive home his points, but he is dead serious. He said unless we produce more skilled workers, this country is facing a downward spiral.
“A third-world country is someplace you go and the lights may or may not work. That’s because they don’t have people with the skills for the upkeep of that particular system. That applies to sewer systems, water systems, electrical systems and on down the line,” Ratzenberger said. “That’s what we are facing in every single industry.”
Maybe some people may not put much stock in a celebrity’s viewpoint, but I respect his passion for addressing something to which the average working person or business owner can relate. 
Having spent more than a decade reporting on the transportation industry, I was well aware of the problems that Ratzenberger was addressing. I saw it not only in trucking, but in the many manufacturing sectors that overlapped the transportation industry. 
I looked up some of the estimated current and  future needs for skilled labor, and they continue to climb in many areas. There’s no shortage for the needs.
The big question is how do we address needs vs. our willingness to solve them? 
Cass County is in the unique position of being near the bottom percentages in education and skilled labor when compared to most other counties in Northeast Texas. But an upward trend would be a positive for not only individuals, who can improve their skill sets and enjoy a better quality of life, but also for the area as a whole in terms of potential business recruitment.
Is it up to each individual to chart his or her own course? Does the community share a responsibility as a whole to help provide more opportunities and as a result help itself? Is it a mix of both?
Cass County voters will have to address these questions later this year if Texarkana College calls an election to annex this area into its taxing district. 
Maybe there is one other question to ponder. What is the cost of doing nothing?

Randy Grider is publisher of the Citizens Journal.

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