Skill TV fights the maintenance crisis

Dec. 2, 2008
Contributing Editor Joel Leonard says Skill TV is proving to be a crucial tool to fix the maintenance crisis.

The negative television portrayal of skilled trades contributes to the stigmas that prevent future workers from developing the skill sets necessary to enter the field of maintenance. I’ve written much about this topic because it’s something I’m passionate about. This passion, combined with my personal experiences, helped me find a way to help take the some of the panic out of the maintenance crisis.

Before my father died from cancer a few years ago, I took him to record his legacy chronicles. At the time, he was in the final stage of his life. Looking back on it, I was lucky to get him up the three flights of stairs to the production studio, much less get him to open up in front of a camera. He was a proud man who, as a physician, delivered thousands of babies. He also served as county coroner and was involved in solving hundreds of murders. He was known for his intelligence and his ability to provide accurate diagnoses of common and obscure ailments. In his later years, he became withdrawn and suffered from the painful internal damage that esophageal cancer causes.

Before hiring pros to record his video, I wondered if he’d open up and provide a record  of his thoughts and reflections on his life. My fears quickly dissolved when the video director brought in a cute, curious young lady who nurtured my father’s sizeable ego and coaxed this normally shy man to unload his life’s dreams, fears, concerns and frustrations.

This video is something I cherish and look forward to watching with my grandchildren. They’ll get an accurate idea of who their progenitor was and recognize him as much more than a name listed on their family tree.

During the interview, my father, who once spent most of his time watching cable TV, said that even though he had more than 100 channels, there still was nothing to watch on TV.

As I listened to him ridicule TV, I watched the creative process at work in the recording studio, and I realized that online videos could be a powerful tool to help the world realize the challenges we face in maintenance. The concept for Skill TV was born. However, I had no funding, no partner, no Web site and just a crazy idea about featuring the issues and challenges regarding the maintenance crisis online.

For a whole year, I nurtured this idea, developed potential content and made a list of interviewees but, without a sponsor, I knew this project wasn’t going to get off the ground. Then, Plant Services’ editors asked me to write a blog about the maintenance crisis. I said, “Everybody writes blogs, but no one has his own online TV show about the maintenance crisis.” I shared with them some of the videos I paid a production studio to produce on a fast-track apprentice program we developed at the MPACT Learning Center. Several of Plant Services’ leaders said, “Let’s give it a try.” That was all I needed to hear. I later purchased my own production-quality video camera and am now enjoying the creative process of producing videos for, as well as being the host of Skill TV.

Skill TV just marked its first anniversary, and in that year we’ve achieved so much. We filmed the EuroMaintenance Conference, the Council on Competitiveness Workforce briefing on Capitol Hill, the PEMAC MainTrain Conference and the National Competitiveness Summit. We interviewed students from a Youthbuild HVAC class, attendees of the Southeast Threshers Reunion and numerous other industry events.

We’ve interviewed government leaders, business leaders and technicians to explore the challenges of the maintenance crisis. Notable among these include Harvard MBA Professor Michael Porter, former Michigan Gov. John Engler, President of the National Association of Manufacturing and Governor of South Carolina Mark Sanford, CEO of Koramic Industries Patrick De Groote and 91-year-old engineer Willard Moore, who hosts his own festival called YesterYear in Motion, among numerous others.

My father never got to watch Skill TV, but I know he’d be proud to know that he played a part in providing society’s real heroes — workers — with the tools to fight stigmas, stereotypes and ignorance.

We’re busy editing 40 additional Skill TV episodes and hope to soon upload them to We also will be featuring videos from my adventures in Amsterdam, Milan and Dubai. We’ll be dedicating more energy to potential maintenance crisis solutions, and I would love to hear your suggestions and get your input about what you would like to see on Skill TV during 2009.

E-mail Contributing Editor Joel Leonard at [email protected].

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