Welders and philosophers – a case for skill needed for Developing Common Language

In the fourth Republican debate Senator Rubio stated, “Welders make more money than philosophers,” “We need more welders and less philosophers.”

One can fully appreciate the possible resurgence of the need for welders, as the manufacturing sector shows some signs of life after decades of being decimated under the banner of globalization. Yes, if you are a hands on welder there are some good jobs available in the range of $35,000 to $50,000/year. Before every one rushes to send their children for welding schools, let us be sure that they are also trained on basics of engineering, business economics and IT applications. Otherwise the welders of today will be left behind in the next few years as Robotics get a greater and stronger foot hold in our manufacturing not long from now.

In every discipline of study one is awarded the highest degree (i.e.) Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D). It is very logical to find – and indeed there are many – Doctor of Philosophy in welding as well. Any Ph.D in welding capable of integrating and implementing new solutions is a hot commodity for employment today. Indeed we need such results oriented Ph.D in every field. At any time the demand for such highly educated and qualified people will be far fewer than welders with basic trade school education and training. But their income will always be higher than the welders in the shop floor.

Why is it that Mr. Rubio suggests that we need more welders and not philosophers? Such thought and language comes from a limited knowledge of the words and their repeated use. The word Philosophy is an in-depth study of any subject. Of course in-depth study of life in general is commonly referred to as “Philosophy”. But every graduate in philosophy major is not a Philosopher any more than any one holding a welding gun is a welder!

Mr. Rubio’s comment also has another ramification as well. There is a general misconception that education in a hot field and income are directly correlated and hence once should get educated in specific areas where opportunity presents itself. This has been the case for the 20th century education. Students flocked to Automobile engineering, Textile engineering, Nuclear engineering, Chemical engineering, Polymer engineering, etc. as each industry grew and shrunk well within the confines of the US shores. With the globalization such sector specific education may still be a need, but every worker needs also to be a system thinker and solution provider first. Absent such transformational skills no amount of education will be a sustainable competitive advantage for the workers at any level. These considerations and in-depth analysis leading to meaningful solutions of impact for average workers will require every presidential candidate to be a bit more philosophic in their reflection, thinking and answers. May be we don’t need more philosophy graduates compared to the number of welders required. But for certain we need every presidential candidate be required to take a crash course in philosophy and the reflection and analytical thinking such education brings.

This episode also points to another important issue we face in the economy and the society today. Words and their true meaning are lost, when they are misused. Thanks to the advent of IT, this abuse spreads quickly and across the globe at the speed of electrons. Then with very little thought such terms and their erroneous meaning become the accepted norm! Welding is a technical skill and philosophy is a thought process. A welder could also be a philosopher. To be grounded on the true meaning of the word requires an ability to step back and look at the big picture and a special skill to “Develop a common language”. We call this as the capacity for System Thinking and Transformational Skills.

Few other examples where we need the above skills and the common language are:

  • Technology (it is not IT or Digital Technology alone as presumed in many conversations),
  • Service Economy is distinct from Industrial Economy (Every economy – industrial, service, high-tech., brick and Mortar, etc. – is rooted in Products (source of revenue), Process (Means to an end) and Application/USE (where the value of the product is perceived hence generating revenue))
  • Globalization  is the cause of many of our problems (It is an outcome and not a cause; pervasive and indiscriminate use of IT applications is the cause))
  • Globalization will lift all boats (Globalization as the result of indiscriminate use of IT to improve operating costs and re-distribute employment across the globe is like a shrinking vessel and can not lift all boats; Unless IT applications together with human skills are also used to create new products, markets and better way of living for all, Globalization as it exists can not lift all the boats)