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In My Opinion

Veterans never stop fighting for country

 

Some veterans came home from World War II as history book heroes. Every other veteran of that world-changing war came home and became a hero.

Though done fighting for country with a gun in their hands, the men and women of World War II returned to their big-city and small-town homes, changed their clothes and quietly kept fighting for their country with their talent, commitment and love for all.

Monday, as we do every year on the 11th day of the 11th month at the 11th hour, we honor all of our veterans from every war and every assignment. We pay tribute to all who served, to those who didn’t come home and to those we’re so fortunate to have in our lives and in our communities.

But as the generation that fought World War II continues to pass away, I’m especially touched by how those soldiers fought for this country with their hands and with their minds after they came home. The service of veterans after they returned may be just as important to this country as that which they offered overseas more than 70 years ago.

One of those stirring stories was told in last week’s Banner about a local veteran who graduated from high school with my dad.

Leo Roy Tift grew up, graduated from Hastings High School in 1932 and worked as a mechanic and handyman until he was drafted into military service during World War II, serving in the Navy. Once the war was over, he returned to Hastings and landed a job in maintenance for the Michigan Department of State Highways.

“When our mechanic quit, I was given the job,” Tift said of the simple transition that would positively impact our highways – then and now.

This was just the beginning of a career that had a huge impact on the department as Tift came up with numerous, ingenious innovations, many of which are still being used today.

Tift and his veteran brothers and sisters came home and built the skilled, dynamic and robust industrial complex that has led the entire world. As members of that World War II generation pass on, I wonder if we’ve got enough of the same kind of talent, commitment and love for country to maintain what that generation built.

In today’s job market, we hear so much about the number of jobs left unfilled, especially in the skilled trades, and we ask, “Where did we go wrong with so many positions and not enough candidates to fill them?” Experts estimate there are more than 1.1 million jobs ready to be filled, and more than 62 percent of companies nationwide indicate they continue to struggle to find electricians, plumbers, welders, heating and air conditioning technicians, construction workers and more.

What’s going to happen as our baby boomers – the generation following that Greatest Generation – decide to retire? America is going to be in trouble.

The problem began in the 1980s as high schools across the country focused on preparing students for college, closing down many of the vocational training opportunities offered to high school students. When Tift and my dad were growing up, they worked on farms, repaired cars and motorcycles and were exposed to skills that few young people today experience.

After reading last week’s Banner article, it brought back memories of Emil Tyden, the founder of so many of our local companies such as Consolidated Tool, now Bliss Clearing Niagara, Hastings Manufacturing Co., Tyden Seal and Viking Corporation.

Tyden also was a U.S. veteran, though his service came during World War I. Tyden came to the United States as an immigrant with a third-grade education, but like Tift, he was blessed with an intuitive mind that allowed him to start several companies and produce hundreds of patents.

And like Tyden, Tift used his intuitive mind to develop a number of pieces of equipment that greatly improved the cost, efficiency and safety of highway maintenance crews and motorists. One such invention was the vertical blade, which is now part of the standard specifications on trucks purchased for highway maintenance. The vertical blade has been adopted by commercial manufacturers and is used in most departments across the country.

Another Tift innovation is the roll-on cover attached to dump trucks to keep their loads from dropping off onto the highway and your vehicle’s windshield. The one-man hand-operated cover goes over the cargo box and cranks back out of the way when not needed. During his years of service to the Michigan Department of Highways, Tift came up with several innovations that were hailed for their economic benefits, efficiency and safer operation.

In 1958, Tift designed a special mower attachment for cutting the grass around and under guardrails, previously done by hand. In 1960, he redesigned and relocated the exhaust system on snowplow trucks, which were collapsing from snow and slush, impacting the hot pipes. So he located the exhaust under the truck and through the side of the hood, which eliminated replacement of the pipes. In 1961, he developed a system to spread and control salt being applied to roadways and later developed a crusher to keep the salt from building up in the auger tube, allowing the driver to continue down the road, and alleviating the necessity for the driver to stop and step out of the cab to unplug the tube.

These were just some of the innovations that made it easier and safer for maintenance crews to do their jobs, and they came from a guy who didn’t go to college and who wasn’t an engineer. It was all about intuitive knowledge that allowed workers to get their jobs done safer and faster than before.

So, where do we expect these skilled, innovative workers to come from in the future if young people aren’t exposed to the world of work? That’s what industry experts across the nation are asking, yet in Lansing and Washington there are few answers or programs like co-op and on-the-job training programs, once a hallmark of high school education.

In last week’s Banner interview, Tift was asked, “How is it that you, of all the maintenance men in the department statewide, have come up with so many valuable inventions and contributions to our industry?”

“I really don’t know,” was Tift’s reply, “unless it is that I see ways the job can be done better – and I figure out how to do it. I get a lot of satisfaction out of contributing to a better job.”

That was Tyden’s claim to fame – he was able to see what was wrong and come up with a better way to do something or build a machine to do it better. And that’s where we’ll find the answers to the questions that plague industries across the country, by exposing young people to jobs and the skilled trades where their abilities can match their interests. Industry experts warn that companies will lose upwards of $100 billion of production as boomers retire, unless we prepare today’s graduates for more of the skilled trades positions left vacant due to retirement.

It’s a serious issue, but, as a state and nation, we’re still not doing enough to fill the slots left empty in so many trades. Only recently have political leaders started talking about the problem, yet they’ve done little to offer legislative changes and generate the financial support necessary to fill the skilled trades gap.

Where have all the Tifts and Tydens gone? As a nation, we’re not producing them, and now, due to the fact that more and more of our kids don’t work and aren’t exposed to the trades like they were 40 years ago, it will be even more difficult to curb the trade deficit in the future.

Drastic measures are necessary or the gap of unfilled jobs will continue to grow until it impacts the economic stability of our nation as a whole.

Let’s honor our veterans Monday for their service and commitment that never stopped.

 

Fred Jacobs, CEO,

J-Ad Graphics Inc.

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