Editor, Manteca Bulletin,
I was delighted to read the article about be.tech in the Bulletin Tuesday. Forty years ago, I quit a job in the medical field to attend Laney College in Oakland after learning that a friend was making five times more than I was working as a welder in the shipyards. That was one decision that I’ve never regretted. I spent the majority of my time in the trades working for a Caterpillar dealer as a heavy equipment repairman/welder.
Over the years, I saw many young men and several women enter the trade after high school or junior college, and be able to start their families and buy a home while in still their early 20s, when many of their peers who had graduated from typical four year colleges were back at home living with their parents. Besides good pay and benefits, another aspect of a job in the trades is that many of them are difficult to send off to a Third World country with a mouse click.
What I did find a little disturbing about the article was that the students, specifically the guys working in metal fabrication, appear to be wearing just the minimum amount of protective gear. The student in the front page photo is welding in a pair of jeans while kneeling on a steel table, and on page 8 another student is grinding wearing what look to be safety glasses, but without a face shield. Safety glasses appear to be mandatory in the shop, as should face shields for grinding, ear plugs or other hearing protection, knee pads, gloves and leathers, protective footwear, and metal fume blocking respirators for burning, plasma cutting and welding. 3M makes one that fits nicely under a welding hood. The students should also be learning how to lift without injuring themselves, work safely on a ladder, and interpret an MSDS sheet prior to working with hazardous materials. These are just basic safety practices in this kind of work environment, ones that any legitimate employer would expect a new hire to have knowledge of.
During my career, I worked with many welders and mechanics who, though only in their 30s or 40s, had bad backs, bad knees, and had suffered serious hearing loss because they didn’t follow good work habits when they were young. It’s much easier to teach a young man to work safely than it is to try to undo the bad habits of a lifetime, so I would encourage Manteca Unified to address work place safety as a large part of the curriculum in any career program that a student may choose to pursue.