What does a rap record have to do with maintenance? This isn’t one of those trick questions or the setup for a new joke that you’ll want to share with your friends. However, the answer to this question could provide a great way to keep the maintenance technician pipeline filled.
Rajeev Bajaj, a 39-year-old chemical engineer from Freemont, Calif., could be part of that answer. He put up $15,000 of his own money to form an independent record label and hired musicians to sing technical lyrics that only he could write. The result is “Geek Rhythms,” an album he produced to improve the “cool” factor of engineers. Dubbed “Music for the mind,” Bajaj wants American culture to embrace technical geeks and “Geeksta” rap.
He also has an ulterior motive: He wants the field to be considered cool when his daughters, ages 3 and 7, reach high school and begin to study engineering and the sciences. “I’m working on making the profession a little bit cooler,” he says, so other students will want to become engineers and have respect for the skill it requires.
Bajaj’s efforts generated positive publicity after a newspaper article written about his album was picked up by papers across the United States, and by the The Times of India, which is published in the country he left years ago to finish his master’s degree and Ph.D. here.
He’s proud of the record and the positive message it has generated for engineers so far.
“People are connecting with it,” he says. Interested parties can visit Bajaj’s Web site, www.rlpkrecords.com, or do a search for the album on www.Amazon.com.
To gauge response to the album, Bajaj has also visited schools in California. “The ratio of kids who like it is 10:1,” he says. “They go for the content as much as the music.” But he’s not satisfied with just one recording effort; his goal is to have a big-name rap star record one of his songs. One favorite is the controversial but popular rapper Eminem.
“If I get a bigger name into it, more people will pay attention,” Bajaj says. Hip-hop magazine XXL has already interviewed Bajaj and is publishing an article about his engineering record this month. “Once the article comes out, I would like to approach Eminem’s label,” he adds. If he doesn’t strike a deal with him, Snoop Dogg and Chuck D from Public Enemy are next on his list.
“My kids think it’s the coolest thing,” he says.
Bajaj agrees that the maintenance industry is “quite similar to engineering” from the perspective of needing an image makeover. “We need to show people how successful these careers are,” he adds.
That’s why he’s in the process of writing lyrics about maintenance with Joel Leonard, an instructor for Mpact Learning Center in Greensboro, N.C., and a columnist for Plant Services. Leonard is author of the “Maintenance Crisis Song,” which you might have downloaded from www.MpactLearning.com to listen to its humorous take on the maintenance crisis.
Leonard’s “Maintenance Crisis Song” has helped educate people inside and outside the industry about the shortage of maintenance workers, and a hit rap song could open even more eyes.
It might get more young people to look to the industry for career opportunities, and it could teach educators the value of investing in maintenance and trades education. Laguna Creek High School’s program in Elk Grove, Calif., is bucking a decade-long trend of cutting vocational education funding. The school has made manufacturing production a permanent part of the curriculum by offering a program that gives teenagers an opportunity to study traditional high-school subjects, as well as manufacturing skills.
Another California school, Katella High School in Anaheim, offers a four-year construction academy that combines traditional classes with industrial training. These kids graduate with the skills it takes to get good jobs in the manufacturing and construction trades. If it’s successful in California, why not bring these opportunities to students in other states?
It’s this kind of enthusiasm for traditionally unglamorous careers that will help recruit tomorrow’s maintenance managers.
Each and every campaign, no matter what form, gives maintenance practitioners the power to change people’s perceptions of the maintenance industry. “All professionals are crucial to maintaining the infrastructure,” Bajaj says.
If you have ideas about how to improve the maintenance industry’s image, or know of educational and/or recruitment programs in your state, please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Our staff would like to include this information in an upcoming issue of Plant Services. If we all talk about this subject long enough and loud enough, the industry is bound to get a new rap.