Jan Phelps: Bring the Worker Bees

I spent my working life as a worker bee. I always had a job, for over 45 years, and never worried about a career.

I wanted to spend my free time with family and friends doing things that interested me and not worrying about what was going on in the office. I am the descendent of five generations of labor union workers. We are the people who do the office work, drive the trucks, dig the ditches, plant and harvest the food, and generally keep civilization humming along.

I learned to work when I was young. My step-father was a building inspector and plumbing and heating contractor. My mother worked as a freight forwarding clerk, so Saturdays were dedicated to housework, grocery shopping and laundry. By the time I was 12 I could swing a 22oz hammer and enjoyed working construction with my cousins and step-father. All of my parents, my Dad included, expected me to help them produce the life they wanted us to have. My cousins and I worked 15-hour days on our summer vacations. We all grew up to be contributing members of society.

In 1997 my cousin Bill and I were sitting in my mother’s backyard on a 12-foot floating bench we had just built under a shade tree. Even after more than 30 years the two of us got together to work on projects. We were musing on getting older and dreading the time when we would have to hire people to do work for us. We knew it would be hard and we were steeling ourselves into letting go of the work ethic and perfection we were taught as children. Even at 70, my cousin still does most of his own construction work around the house only hiring people for roofing or heavy work.

Hiring people has become a problem. I hate to sound like an old codger, but where are all the worker bees? I have been living in Humboldt County for nearly four years and I have a terrible time finding someone to help with my projects.

I am not expecting much, I pay cash and provide lunch. I need people who are strong, are able to communicate and show up ready to work. Once I find someone to help they either don’t show up or call at the last minute to beg off. I am usually needing help moving or lifting things. I still know how to do plumbing, carpentry, flooring, painting… I just need some muscle. I am good at what I do and able to teach skills to anyone who wants to learn, the problem is I cannot find a worker bee.

What have we done to our children? Why don’t they want to work? What will become of them when we are gone? Homes will still need to be built; crops will still need to be planted and harvested; cows will still need to be fed and milked; cars, trucks, harvesters will need to be serviced.

These are just the skills that sustain life, what about the skills that produce art and literature. None of these things can be done by computers. Despite what you think good skills cannot be taught with You-tube videos.

Shut off the TVs, computers and phones. Take your children and teach them a life skill. Bring shop and auto classes back to our schools. Bring back technical schools so that the skills that sustain us will be there in the future.

We now have two  generations of American children who lack the skills to survive; and a new generation is being born as we speak.

Go out and turn a child into a Worker Bee. You will thank me later.

Jan Phelps is an Arcata resident.