Originally published September 20, 2012.
September 21 is National Tradesmen Day, a holiday most people have probably never heard of. It’s kind of new. It started last year and is set to be celebrated the third Friday in September every year. It’s not a government holiday. It was created by Irwin Tools, a subsidiary of Newell Rubbermaid.
National Tradesmen Day is set aside to honor the skilled tradesmen in the country who do all the manual labor that many of us can’t do for ourselves. People like auto mechanics, plumbers, roofers, carpenters, drywall installers, electricians, HVAC technicians, and welders. There’s a shortage of such skilled workers, and “skilled trades” is the number one category of the hardest jobs to fill in the country. Some blame the decline of vocational and technical education on the steady focus we’ve had on 4-year university education.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that over a third of skilled tradesmen are over 50. For every three tradesmen who retire, there’s only one person with the skills to do their kind of work. So a day set aside to recognize their talents and hard work sounds like something a lot of us could get behind.
But not all of us. Here’s a sample of comments left on a forum in which people weighed in on the first National Tradesmen Day:
“Too bad they sold out American workers.”
“I wonder how ‘Tradesmen Day’ is said in Mandarin.”
“Oh man I feel for all the laid off workers who are out of a job and have to watch their old company do this shit pathetic.”
“How about a ‘sellout day’ for companies like Irwin?”
In 2008 Irwin closed its plant in DeWitt, Nebraska. Vise-Grip locking pliers and other tools had been made there for 80 years. Employees were told that the parent company had to move production to China “to keep the Vise-Grip name competitive.” About 300 people lost their jobs at the plant that “anchored” DeWitt. One employee who had worked there for nearly 20 years told the media, “It’s a kick in the head.”
Irwin Tools has been successful, though, at marketing National Tradesmen Day, with media outlets and small businesses all on board. Irwin wants more students to consider careers in the skilled trades and is urging each of us to go out of our way to thank the skilled tradesmen we know and hire.
But in addition to the cynics, there are the doubters. One commenter on a forum posed the question: “Isn’t that what Labor Day is for?”