Let's Be Thankful for Skilled Workers

Despite the hustle and bustle of cooking, cleaning, and shopping during the week of Thanksgiving, I always try to take a moment to remember what I am thankful for -- my family and our many friends, the good health that we enjoy, the home that gives us shelter, the food that nourishes us, the job that helps provide for our needs, and the country where we are fortunate enough to live. This special holiday affords each of us the opportunity to reflect on how our lives have been enriched and blessed, and I am heartened to know that so many of you also observe this annual tradition of gratitude.

This year, I would like to suggest adding a few more people to our gratitude list. I'm talking about skilled workers: the men and women who work behind the scenes, the people who we only think about in times of need, and the ones who work hard just to make our lives more convenient.

For instance, it is easy to take for granted the electricity that flows through our homes when we flip a light switch, turn on our televisions, or plug an appliance into an outlet. That is until Mother Nature comes along with strong winds or an ice storm to remind us what it was like for our ancestors on Thanksgiving more than 100 years ago. When power outages occur, high voltage linemen are our heroes, working in the worst possible weather conditions to get power restored. When a crisis does occur, like a tornado or a flood, linemen from across the country make their way to disaster areas in an effort to help those most in need.

Thanksgiving also means food and a lot of kitchens will be going into overdrive to get everything ready. That means the natural gas used to heat our ovens and fire our stovetops, not to mention our homes, is more important than ever. In order to get that natural gas to our homes safely, we need men and women inspecting and maintaining the miles of pipelines that crisscross the country as well as natural gas compression technicians that monitor and control the movement of natural gas in the U.S.

There are also the automotive technicians and collision repairmen who get our cars and trucks running and back on the road. With families living so far apart from one another, Thanksgiving has become one of the busiest travel times of the year. Having dependable transportation for those long holiday trips is essential.

And what would we do without engineering and information technologists? We are becoming more and more dependent on technology like the Internet, computers, smart phones, and a number of other personal devices that make our lives much easier. It is increasingly important to have a skilled and trained workforce that can quickly address issues and fix problems that can disrupt our communications and access to data. After all, what would Thanksgiving be without a televised football game (or two) and the chance to call a friend to razz about the score?

Then there are the nurses and healthcare providers who are often our first point of contact when we're sick or hurt and offer comfort and reassurance in sometimes scary situations. Emergency healthcare providers are always on-call and available to serve us, even when you and I are taking a break from our jobs to be with our families.

Let's not forget those who construct buildings, maintain waste management systems, operate power plants, manufacture products, transport merchandise, or take care of public roads and bridges. The list of important skilled laborers and vital service providers who make our holidays more pleasurable literally goes on and on.

There are more than 35 million skilled workers in the U.S., in areas such as construction, farming, transportation, maintenance, repair and production. That's nearly a quarter of all occupations in the country, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It is projected that by 2020, over 25 percent of all new jobs will be in the areas of construction, healthcare, and the retail trades; so the need for these kinds of skilled technicians will only increase. Those with associate degrees in these fields are in high demand and often have jobs lined up before they graduate. The same study cited that by 2020 occupations requiring an associate degree will grow by 18 percent.

Take a minute to think about all the people who make it possible for you and I to drive home, cook that turkey, and watch that football game. Let's give thanks for skilled workers and their dedication and hard work.