Clear up the media cloud

Nov. 17, 2005
Many believe our information is clouded by constant broadcasts from the entertainment and sports industries. This media cloud contributes significantly to the maintenance crisis coming to American businesses.

Isn’t it amazing to live in a free country where we can choose our own destiny and not be stuck in our fathers’ roles? But even though we are living in the information age, do we truly have all the pertinent details to make sound decisions?

Perhaps, but many believe our information is clouded by constant broadcasts from the entertainment and sports industries. This media cloud contributes significantly to the maintenance crisis coming to American businesses.

I recently sent story tips to various media outlets, challenging them to poll business and HR leaders to get projections of their future demands for skilled personnel, and to survey high school and college students to discover what careers they are pursuing. Every media outlet responded with interest and several wondered why they hadn’t done this before.

We all know there will be a large chasm between the needs of industry and aspirations of our youth. It’s a shame our society has not performed the needed preventive maintenance by inspecting young people’s career choices. With these investigations underway and other media outlets catching on, the maintenance crisis may yet be mitigated.

Until there is more alignment between education and industry, there will be shortages of skills in critical career paths and an abundance of singers, dancers and athletic wannabes. With cameras and microphones thrust in their faces, superintendents and teachers will no longer look down their snooty academic noses from ivory towers at the needs of manufacturers and facilities directors, but respond by developing talent that can follow in the shoes of retiring baby boomers.

When I was interviewed recently by a radio station about a local job fair, the morning disk jockeys were surprised that maintenance professionals make $17 to $25 per hour. “You’ve got to be kidding. When I think of maintenance guys, I think of Schneider from the TV Show, ‘One Day at a Time,’” said one of them.

I bit my lip and said, yes, the maintenance profession does not get a lot of respect from the media. We now maintain very sophisticated new equipment that requires not just a handyman, but a trained professional, adding, “I’m sure your own engineering staff employs valued skilled professionals and not a Schneider, Bubba or Skeeter as many who wrongly perceive maintenance think we are.”

More than 350 people attended the job fair. Employers were amazed at the turnout and pleased to finally have a choice of skilled candidates to fill their openings.

Since then, many print and television reporters have interviewed me and ask, “Why aren’t kids going into this field?” I reply, “What did your parents tell you to do? Did they say, ‘Working with your hands and your back is good,’ or did they say, ‘Get a better life by learning how to read, write and to use a computer?’”

All acknowledged they were directed to pursue the latter path and were amazed to learn that maintenance pros also use computers. One reporter admitted that he did as his father wished, graduated from college and became an ace reporter for the area newspaper. He also admitted that his younger brother didn’t listen to his dad, but instead went to a two-year technical school, became an electrician and is now making twice as much as his college-educated older brother.

I had the great pleasure of showing my father, a retired physician who often sneered at my career choice, a half-page article on my efforts to revitalize maintenance in a local newspaper’s business section. Coincidentally, there was a small note about a new doctor moving to town. I pointed out that a lowly “maintenance evangelist” got more media coverage than a new doctor. He smiled with pride, knowing his boy had done well.

To further advance our cause, we as maintenance professionals need to educate the media and provide them with accurate information about our needs and challenges so they can support us.

Want to help? Forward me any facts, details, personal accounts or pictures that clearly represent the value and excitement of the profession (or consequences of poor maintenance practices — perhaps even disasters).

Meanwhile, stick out your chest and be proud of being a maintenance professional. Our society’s fate truly lies in the hands of those who don’t mind getting them a little dirty.

Email Joel Leonard at [email protected].

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