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AUTHOR OF “Life Begins at Forty”

YOU men with sound technical training are lucky. As the world picks up speed and pulls out of its long slump, you will be among the first to find profitable employment. Wherever I go, I hear the same story. In Austin, Texas, a year ago, a man wanted eight service men for his electric refrigeration stores—and couldn’t find one anywhere. Last month, out in California, I heard another man fuming because he couldn’t find any high-grade radio service workers. In Buffalo a manufacturer told me he needed top-grade die casters for seven big contracts and was being compelled to pay double the standard wage for the few he had found. I helped him pick up a few more in Detroit and Chicago.

So it goes everywhere. Here a man, there two, and over there half a dozen. The pickup may look small to an observer who stays on one spot; but to those of us who tour America studying this problem of opportunities and trends, the scene grows rosy. It is bright today for the skilled workers in steel, in automobiles, and in some building trades. It is still brighter for the higher types of technical men, who rank between the skilled workers and the professionals.

In the Diesel engine field there is no short- age of top professional workers; in fact, there seems to be still a bad surplus of excellent engineers. But I find two shortages below this professional level: Engineers are sorely needed to sell Diesels to people who insist on full technical descriptions and who argue fine technical points. Then there is a new shortage beginning in the service field. As yet there are altogether too few well trained men who are servicing Diesels.

A few months ago I spent an entire morning with a clever young Swede who had been thoroughly trained in one of Europe’s finest Diesel engine factories and had come over here during the depression (believe it or i not!) to offer his skill in servicing all kinds of Diesels. He had eighteen months of misery getting on his feet; for he had to learn English and he had to find customers. Today, at the end of his fourth year, he is all set to go places. He employs four men in his little shop and has established a name for himself especially among commercial fishermen who use Diesels.

At a wild guess, I’d say that five hundred Americans could match this career provided that they trained themselves in basic factory practice as did this Swede. You can’t tackle a fuel oil engine with a monkey wrench and a lot of ignorance. You must know your stuff. And you can’t pick it out of thin air.

I find a grave shortage of technical men in the heating, ventilating and air conditioning fields. There are plenty of tinsmiths who think they can service a ventilating system simply because they are adept with tin shears and soldering iron. Heaven help the house or store that draws one of these fellows when seeking to solve a ventilating problem! I would be surprised if fewer than five thousand properly trained men could not find well paid work in the ventilating field during the next year. Maybe twenty thousand can, with all the new building about to start.

Air conditioning is running a high fever. In parts of the country the volume of new business is unbelievable. Down in Houston, Texas, tens of millions of dollars’ worth of the new installations have been added to old and new buildings in the last year. It is only a matter of time before every other southern and southwestern city will remodel itself likewise. So much has been written about this opportunity that I shall say no more.

Now, I cannot list all opportunities in this brief article. I am much more interested in making certain fundamentals clear to every reader who either is or wants to become a technical worker. Thousands of technical men are still on relief rolls or on park benches. At the very same time thousands of excellent jobs remain unfilled. What’s wrong? How bring the man to the job? This is the most urgent of all problems today.

First, by understanding the kinds of careers that await properly trained men, and then by training yourself for these.

The first principle to remember is this: There are and will be for many years relatively more openings in service than in production work. In most fields not only is factory capacity ample for existing and future needs for some years to come, but machines take over steadily more work that once fell to men of brawn. Automatic and semi-automatic machinery, though, needs highly trained managers and supervisors who can manipulate delicate controls and costly equipment, and who know thoroughly how to make the needed adjustments and repairs. Today’s worker cannot start on his job before his employer has spent literally hundreds of dollars on the machines and equipment used by each worker. Hence the employer’s risks are extremely high, and his demand for responsible supervision and management greater than ever.

Now for the second principle of today’s opportunities. Thousands of technical men are too narrowly trained. They are single-track specialists. But today’s jobs call for versatility within a given field. A refrigeration service man should know not only the fundamentals of refrigeration, but enough about machines and electricity to do a good job of installation and servicing. A man who can do nothing but steam fitting or sheet metal work may have a hard time finding a good job. But suppose he adds to these skills the ability to install heating and air conditioning equipment. Few such men are hunting work today. To find a promising career, then, train yourself to be a “merger job” man. Learn to combine two or more different types of activity into a single line of work. Beware of over-specialization.

Take the printing industry. The man who knows nothing but typography will be elbowed out by the worker trained in both typography and the fundamentals of art and design. For the best printing opportunities call for merger job men. The artist-typographer wins out over the worker who knows nothing but art, or the employee skilled in typography alone.

Look next at metallurgy. Here revolution follows revolution. Wherever iron, steel, copper, or nickel are used in the making of useful objects large and small, there you find new alloys rapidly crowding out the old-fashioned pure metals. Sometimes they serve to increase the strength and sometimes to lighten things. Often they serve to reduce rust and to check the destructive effects of chemicals. In spite of the vast progress in recent years, the handling of alloys is still in its infancy. Every expert will tell you that a new field opens up here every few months. I couldn’t list the opportunities if I tried. Technicians here should know the whole chemistry of combining various metals. They must also master the wholly new art of working the alloys, whether it be in the form of castings, drop-forging, or turned work. They should be both good shop-mechanics and alloy experts.

Out in the oil fields of Texas and Oklahoma, workers are merging not only a knowledge of production and operation, but they are training themselves in the special mathematics of the job. Thus the modern operator knows how to drill, to separate gas and oil, to care for and use equipment, and also how to keep intelligent well-production records, and thus advance beyond the menial labor of the “roustabout gang.”

Radio experts emphasize the value of training not only in broadcasting, but in electrical communication in general. Thus the broadcast engineer finds opportunities not only in broadcasting alone, but in other forms of electrical communication and branches of the radio industry, including the foundations of television—if and when.

Now turn to the merger job of technical salesmanship.

Not long ago a large company arranged to sell and install 300,000 oil burners yearly—three times the normal installation of domestic heating burners. But it was stumped by the single problem of finding enough well trained technical men to sell the burners. The market was there. The price was right. But the merger-job men were as scarce as Dakota waterholes.

Industry wants both buyers and sellers who are trained technicians. The manager of a large middle-western nursery, for instance, wrote me last month that the nursery business offers permanent employment to any salesman who can qualify. To be a top-notcher, he should know his stock as well as a general line of material which can be obtained elsewhere for his clients. He should be able to cover a good deal of ground, to meet many people, to ‘sell himself to his prospective customers. He should also have a good working knowledge of landscape principles, although many nursery firms employ landscape experts for the most complex problems.

Technical salesmanship offers fine opportunities for people who like to sell and can get results.

Now a word about training. Are you in your ‘teens or your twenties? Then finish high school if you possibly can. Employers are insisting more and more on this minimum education. Whether or not you should complete your technical training in college depends on your purse and your ambitions. Key jobs go mostly to college men today. There are, of course, notable exceptions. But the keener the competition, the more exacting the requirements for long, thorough training. A chemical engineer, for example, ought to spend at least as much time preparing for his career as does the doctor or the lawyer. I am told that one large electrical supply company today employs only college men in all jobs of any consequences.

If you can afford the training, then, and want to reach the top, spend as much time as you can possibly afford in college and graduate technical study.

There are, however, thousands of opportunities for high school graduates with additional technical training from good night schools, reliable correspondence schools, and extension courses at colleges and universities.

How about men in their thirties and forties, reasonably well established, but graduated from neither high school nor college?

Unless you have some special reason for following another plan, I advise you to spend your leisure time studying the important new developments related to your job and the opportunities it offers. If you find yourself in dead-end work, then work out some program of retraining for promising openings as closely allied to your experience as possible. This may or may not call for high school training. If you must write reports, for instance, and are handicapped by lack of education in composition and the use of language in general, equip yourself for the work wherever seems feasible. If you would advance faster by a knowledge of accounting, then enroll in any good accountancy course offered by any of dozens of fine schools.

Talk over with your employer or some competent adviser your plans and ambitions. Establish yourself as a man on the make. Follow whatever program of reading, study and practical work in training yourselves for new skills and techniques seems advisable. I have lately studied the records of many technicians earning up to $250 (and in a few cases more) monthly who credit correspondence school training for their advancement and good salaries. Some were only grammar school graduates. Many were high school people. And I recall one notable case of a man who had never gone beyond the third grade in formal schooling, but who had persistently trained himself in his leisure time for a responsible, well-paying job. (He earns about four times as much as the average young lawyer in New York City.) Tomorrow will see fiercer competition than ever before. The man who serves best will win. The half-baked fellow, the lazy man, the irresponsible chap, and the slick cheater will go into the garbage can. The successful man will know all there is to know about his technical field. He will be able to do anything in it. He will be tactful in handling customers, cautious in buying and in delivering goods, and zealous to please.

If you don’t care to do your utmost, get out of technical work at once. But if you mean to make good 100%, rest assured that, within a reasonable time, you will have a career that will bring bread and butter to your stomach and a grin to your face.

1 comment
  1. dagezhu says: April 22, 20095:56 am

    “The man who serves best will win. The half-baked fellow, the lazy man, the irresponsible chap, and the slick cheater will go into the garbage can.”

    No, actually, the slick cheater will get a multi-billion dollar bailout, the lazy man will be replaced by an illegal immigrant worker, and the irresponsible chap will join forces with the half-baked fellow to repeal civil liberties.

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