Harmel Academy is a unique sort of start-up. Our mission is to train the next generation of Catholic tradesmen that they may be men of skill, character, and faith.
You also probably know that there is something of a trades crisis in the U.S. The National Academies estimate that 3.5 million skilled trades jobs will go unfilled by 2022, and this problem is expected to continue into the foreseeable future.
Business owner after business owner tells the same story: they simply cannot find enough qualified employees in the skilled trades. They need tradesmen of skill, work ethic, and character, but so very few are answering the call.
This need is especially remarkable when you consider the fact that skilled tradesmen make very good wages, and can often enter the trades with little to no college debt. Businesses and trades organizations are scrambling to train tradesmen, offering low cost and even free training, but no one is showing up to take advantage!
Why is this? We at Harmel have a few theories.
One: for the last generation, young men have been told that the only way to build a career and a meaningful life is by going to college.
Not only is this idea untrue, it is harmful. While college is an excellent option for many and does provide many benefits, there are an increasing number of young people discovering that their degree has ill-prepared them for the workforce and life in general. What’s more, many incur a great deal of debt before they make this realization, leaving them to wonder whether they will be able to support—or even start—a family.
Two: our culture has forgotten the meaning of work.
Not only have we largely forgotten the importance of work, we have forgotten that work is an essential element in a flourishing human life, and part of God’s original call to mankind to collaborate with him in the creation of the world. Unfortunately, even many Catholics and Catholic schools have also forgotten this call.
Three: people just don’t understand what the skilled trades are.
When you ask people about the trades, they tend to think one of two things. They the skilled trades mean dull, toilsome drudgery where you while your life away in low-paying, meaningless, repetitive labor. Or, they think a life in the skilled trades is a return to a time of romanticized craftsmanship where guildsmen wear leather aprons, work with hand tools, and build wholly unique, custom-crafted goods like wooden cartwheels or windmills.
Each of these misperceptions has an element of truth, but each also contains a crucial error. You will face hard work. There’s no getting around that. But people don’t realize that the trades require a great deal of technical skill, creativity, problem solving, entrepreneurship, and work ethic.
And while you won’t be entering a romanticized past of pre-modern craftsmanship, the right approach to the trades means you will discover the individual fulfillment of meaningful work that we associate with those romanticized visions.
It all comes down to your formation, to how you learn to answer the following question:
How does my work, whatever it is, fit into God’s plan for my life, my family’s care, and the salvation of the world?
In other words, a meaningful life in the trades depends on asking a question very similar to the question asked by another skilled tradesman, 2,000 years ago, in a small town named Nazareth.
I’m talking, of course, of St. Joseph, our Lord’s guardian and legal father, and the patron of tradesmen everywhere.
Here at Harmel, men study in the school and shop of St. Joseph, learning to direct the skills of our heads and hands toward forming our hearts and fulfilling our calling in Christ.
In the coming weeks, we will be offering some reflections on “the school of St. Joseph.” So be on the look out for what we’ve nicknamed “44 Days of St. Joseph.”