Old man shakes screwdriver at cloud

I have 50 or 60 employees, whose jobs have skill requirements that run the gamut from "empty trash cans" to "mix a live band". So every time I see my general manager standing on a ladder I say, "Surely you could have delegated this." But unfortunately, it seems to be the case that almost nobody under 35 knows how to:

  • Replace a 3 prong outlet.
  • Replace a washer in a faucet.
  • Replace a sink's p-trap.
  • Replace a door knob.
  • Put a screw into a piece of wood. All the way. Straight.
  • Figure out the part number of that rusty thing. Order one.
  • Use a table saw without dying.
  • Use masking tape for masking.

Dear service-industry millennials: take a shop class. Not only will your employer be able to give you more hours, but you'll need to talk to your landlord a lot less often!

(See also: "How to Tell a Loved One They're Coiling Cables Wrong".)

Tags: ,

100 Responses:

  1. Valhalla_Dev says:

    take a shop class _where_ tho? If millenials don't know how to build/work on stuff it's because boomers that are running schools aren't offering shop classes. I didn't have that opportunity and I went to public school in the south.

  2. Jester says:

    I do enjoy when I get to see the generation that raised “kids today” complaining about kids today. It’s a phenomenon that has been documented for centuries. That and “no one wants to work anymore.”

    • Chris Adams says:

      I think this one is simpler: GenX and younger were carpet bombed with “college is the only path to a decent job”, schools embraced that heavily, and a lot of kids picked up the heavy stigma.

      This is going to be especially interesting as AI chips away at office jobs but plumbers and electricians remain in short supply.

      • Jester says:

        I’m late Gen X myself, and I remember very well all that “go to college” stuff. I got myself a degree, then promptly found work unrelated to my degree, and have worked in various trades ever since. I’m 16 years into my railroad career, and I regret nothing. The money is great, I don’t bring my work home, and I enjoy what I do.

        Most of the college grads I know all hate their jobs; the money they make isn’t worth it.

    • Luís Silva says:

      I was thinking that I can do all of that, and suddenly I noticed that I'm almost 45 😩

  3. Benjamin says:

    I didn't learn most of these until I was 25 and had my own apartment. Did a piss poor job of them until well into my thirties, too.

  4. J. Peterson says:

    Interesting list. I'd almost qualify except:

    • Table saws give me the creeps (except maybe a SawStop)
    • I'm over 35
  5. Jeff Forcier says:

    TBF this is almost certainly because very few people in that age bracket have been able to own their own living quarters! I didn’t start to learn any of this shit until I finally bought my own place in 2020, and I’m 40!

  6. Mark Dennehy says:

    To be fair, no American seems to know how to use a table saw. You have 4000 amputations and ten times that in injuries every year...

  7. I was told shop class was for people not going to college. I was an experimental physicist for 16 years and those people did not know what they were talking about.

    • Or, like jwz says, a homeowner, or someone who owns a bike or a car or skateboard. My inlaws think I'm magical because I can replace a toilet seat.

    • jwz says:

      I learned to use a band saw in high school art class -- it was part of the sculpture curriculum.

      • klausfiend says:

        i did a stint before uni working as a machinist's apprentice, and it taught me both a ton of things about how to work effectively with my hands and that i was not well-suited to be a machinist -- but it was an incredibly worthwhile experience regardless

    • Hey! My favorite three classes as a physics major were: machine shop, build this computer and take apart this VW.

    • Greg Vernon says:

      I used the skateboard I built in shop class to get between my classes in college as they were too far to walk between in the time between classes.

    • Eric Bellm says:

      My career as an astrophysicist started with skills I developed in a highschool mechanical drawing class...

    • sleepy says:

      amen, so should be required. 1 year minimum.

    • I’m old. But over 30 years ago when I was in high school one of the “shop” teachers at my school (a public high school) got a federal grant to create a shop class for AP science students. The AP science classes were double period classes held three days a week. The other two days his special shop class had Honors tracked students building rockets, mousetrap powered cars etc.

      In modern terms - he ran a makerspace (but again this was in 1990) we learned to solder and more.

  8. mycorrhiza says:

    Interesting observation. In my experience, it’s the baby boomers (my parents and in-laws come to mind) that are particularly un-handy. I chalked that up to a class thing; their generation was the first to really pursue white collar work, so “blue collar” skills were looked down upon.

  9. Jason Sewall says:

    These are indeed all good skills to have. Horse is a bit out of the barn with respect to shop class if they are 10 years out of high school.

    Channeling W. Sobchek: I do wonder if it's legal to have an unlicensed person do plumbing or electrical work in a commercial space.

    • Jon says:

      Where I live, the community college has evening classes on things such as household electrical: "Learn how to safely add/replace electrical outlets, circuit breakers, repair electrical cords, lamps, 3-way switches, outdoor lighting, and work with GFCI's plus much more."

    • Elusis says:

      They haven't taught shop classes (or Home Ec) in middle school in more than two decades most places, thanks to "No Child Left Behind" focus on testing. Tracking folks into "college prep" courses in HS means even people my age (almost 50) didn't get vocational classes in HS even if they existed because we were loaded up with foreign language and calculus. Now a lot of school systems have cut costs by consolidating all the vocational ed stuff into one "magnet school" so there's not even an option unless you go to that school (which often gets treated as a dumping ground for behavioral problems - though the shortage of plumbers and electricians &c is starting to wake some folks up to the value of skilled trades).  

      Millennials should go learn basic repair and maintenance from the same place they learn everything else:  YouTube.  (Seriously, Grandma here is shocked how often YouTube is the solution to "how do I put my screen door back on the track when I blundered into it and knocked it loose?" and "how do I replace the gasket under my door so water doesn't come in when it rains?" and so on.)

      • I had both shop and home ec in middle school/high school, and to be honest I think the only thing I took away from them was "don't be scared of tools/the kitchen". Useful lessons to be sure, but a far cry from actually gaining useful skills.

      • jwz says:

        I never had a shop class per se (I've always gone with the "learn by hubris" approach) but I did learn how to use a band saw in a high school art class -- it was a part of the sculpture curriculum.

        When I was eight or so, I bought this book at a flea market: The Boy Mechanic (1913). It's all about how to make Leyden jars, and how to re-purpose barbed wire to hook up a telegraph between the house and the barn. Based on that book I built a telephone, and learned to dial using a tapper made from a cut up tin can. Another favorite was First Electrical Book For Boys (1939) which I still have, and judging by the library pocket in the front, which I stole from my school library in 1978.

        Libraries! Like YouTube but even more casually sexist and with weird stuff about horses that you don't understand!

        • Elusis says:

          Everything I know about power tools, I learned from four years of scene shop while getting a theatre degree. (Yes I know how to use a table saw and still keep all my fingers.)

          I'm gonna get yelled at for saying this, but... is it bottom-line worthy to do a few "professional development" days for employees?

        • Josh says:

          Oh *man*, I found four volumes of The Boy Mechanic when I was about the same age and there was so much cool stuff in there.  The illustrations were amazing.  I built a couple of small things but I absolutely lacked the skill (and some of the materials, turns out the Local Chemist's closed up shop 50 years ago) to build a lot of the stuff in there.  And there were some things that in hindsight I'm glad I didn't build, such as a bicycle that was modified to work on frozen lakes... I can only imagine how much damage I would have done with something like that.

  10. while I can do all of those things, this theme is why my retirement plan is “go to community college and become an electrician and plumber”, because I can’t do the next tier of tasks, and it drives me nuts to wait for contractors.

    • sclatter says:

      More philosophically, I'm of the persuasion that "kids these days" largely suffer from being over-parented out of a sense of self efficacy.  The result is the lack of a "can-do attitude", and also they are miserable.  Us Gen-Xers and others who were minimally-supervised as children realized we could get along ok and figure things out.  As a person raising a quartet of kids these days I think about this a lot.  I have friends who have high schoolers they will not leave home alone.  When I was the age of my seventh grader I was in college.  I talked to my parents once a week.  So yes my kid can handle the city bus.

      • 1

        I think a lot of it is innate to the child.  My son is a typical modern kid who wants to be glued to an iPad and watch YouTube all day, but I find that he's choosing instruction videos and spending a lot of time making Scratch programs, all with zero prompting from me.  He *wants* to be handy and is using the tools to teach himself.

    • Steve Allen says:

      One of my middle school teachers absent mindedly assembled the pictured cord. Then he plugged in both ends. He was lucky and had same to same on every wire. Then he looked at what he had done and panic set in. He decided he needed to cut the cable, so he got his knife and sliced it. We were lucky not to have a substitute for the rest of the year.

      • Not Frank says:

        Was this standard for him, or did he pick up an Idiot Ball earlier?

      • Jon says:

        Aside from that "absent mindedly" being incredibly stupid... or show.

        Don't you guys have circuit breakers? How could that even end up being dangerous?

        But sure.. instead of opting to pull the cord, I'll certainly always grab a knife. :-D

        • Steve Allen says:

          Not for show. Done at home, and the near-death experience related to classes the next day.

          • tfb says:

            So quite likely he didn't do it at all, but made up the story as a parable to tell to the people who he was teaching.

            Which, if true, is an admirable thing to do and clearly worked!

        • tfb says:

          Circuit breakers do not protect you from a cable which, if you plug one end in, has exposed live contacts at the other end: a typical appliance draws way more current than is needed to kill you.

          I have, in fact, made more-or-less this mistake: involving having grown up with transistor electronics and then playing with valve (tube) equipment.  When the rubber boots perish on your ancient AVOmeter it doesn't really matter ... until suddenly it does.

  11. Monkey Mind says:

    Sing it, brother! This! Yes. Argh!

  12. 4

    > Dear service-industry millennials: take a shop class.

    Easy for you to say. As people have pointed out, it's a bit late for the millennials, who've been out of the free shop class environment for a while now. As for the kids still in HS, whose "generation" hasn't been named yet, maybe the school has shop and maybe not. The kids who hope to go to college are probably not taking it even if it's available, because it's time spent in a way that doesn't help their applications stand out.

    It is amazing how nobody seems to know how to do anything. I mean, I sucked at shop and didn't learn any of the skills you mention there, though I acquired them somehow or other. Probably from just doing them when they needed being done. But despite the availability of endless YouTube videos that could instruct them on all the things, nobody is willing to pick up tools and tray anything. So it appears.

    • Jonathan Hendry says:

      Makerspaces are like shop class for grownups.

      Here’s one in New Haven: https://www.makehaven.org/

      Can be a bit expensive though. And there aren’t enough of them.

    • Elusis says:

      I'll point out in their defense that when all you can afford at age 35 is to rent one room in a house you share with five other adults, there's no room to build up a decent tool collection (among many other things).

      • phuzz says:

        You can build up some tools, as long as they fit in a drawer or a tool box. It's bigger power tools (eg router, grinder, welder) that would only see occasional use that are tricky to store.
        I'm pretty set for computer/electronics repair, but I'm lacking wood and metal-working tools.

    • granville says:

      DIY channels are pretty great. I've learned how to skimcoat walls, paint, drill through metal and cement and a bunch of other things from YouTube. I could probably do more but I live in a multi-unit building and there are quite a few bylaws against most of this stuff.

      I screwed up a lot (the use of "primer" much less oil-based primer eluded my first few jobs, resulting in a rain of paint chips from the bathroom ceiling within a year) but the worst that can happen with most of these type of things and the ones jwz pointed out is you just have to start over.

  13. spoonyfork says:

    Next $300k/year job: basic handyman, er I mean handyhumanbeing.

  14. DDR says:

    As a software dev under 35... I can do all those things. Sew, too, which has come in handy a few times.

  15. Tom Cook says:

    I’m nearly 40 but shop class was never offered in my high school while I was there. Instead they taught us how to score highly on the standardized tests that determined school funding.

  16. Gabe Kangas says:

    Additionally I’d love to see more focus on “mix a live band” classes in school.

  17. fluffy says:

    As with many things, you can blame the "no child left behind" act, which has, indeed, ended up leaving a lot of children behind (especially when they become adults).

    I'm surprised that Extremely Online millennials haven't learned that they can learn these things from YouTube though.

    • Clem says:

      Agreed with NCLB.  Even the weird cold-war math standards were better than that.

      But as for the E.O.Ms...   Unless they own a house or have a hobby that involves use of those tools, there is a good chance they haven't had a *need* to do those things before.  Once they have that need, I bet YouTube (or even TikTok and other services) is right there.

  18. George Dorn says:

    Curiously, it has never been easier to learn how to do all of these things outside of a shop class.  I've never taken one, and whenever I need to fix something around the house, youtube is right there.  Plus the instructions that come with the replacement.

  19. SIEM Shady says:

    Same person who protested property tax increases for schools forced to cut electives.

  20. Do you know of *any* high schools that have still had shop classes in the last 30 years?

    Almost all of them were forced to get rid of shop classes and such frippery to focus on "teaching to the tests."

  21. craic says:

    Someone with even basic DIY skills will save a ridiculous amount of money over the years not having to hire someone else to fix stuff. I'd put myself on the higher end of the skill spectrum and I reckon I've saved several hundred grand over the past few decades... although, to be fair, a non-trivial percentage of that has been spent buying additional tools... it's an investment expense

  22. there’s a YouTube tutorial for that.

  23. I once taught a PhD student of mine how to fix holes in bicycle tires. This skill is apparently becoming a well kept trade secret.

  24. 6

    You don't need shop class for any of this. All it takes is YouTube and hubris.

    • Rodger says:

      Particularly for the table saw.

      • asparagino says:

        Learning how to use a table saw from youtube could definitely cause you to lose a finger. It can quickly give you confidence that you know enough to get started, without making you stop to properly understand cross and rip cuts, kickbacks and proper use of push sticks.

        There are loads of videos of people blithely putting their fingers within inches of the blade, removing the riving knife etc, without explaining exactly what they're doing and why.

    • jwz says:

      Hubris goes a long way.

      • Elusis says:

        So does your thumb, when you run it into the table saw.

      • Gordon says:

        So is the thesis that we raised a generation with less hubris? maybe that tracks actually, less siblings, more helicopter parenting, can't afford move away from said helicopters until well into your twenties...
        Just generally a lot more chances for someone to tell you to "leave that alone".

        • Gordon says:

          FWIW in my experience, when ranking candidates add a lil more weight to "grew up on a farm", they generally get a lot more DIY exposure and it's good to have one or two of those in a small business.

          Best office manager I ever had was a 23yo woman who grew up on a Tasmanian ranch and was travelling the world for funzies, entirely self funded.

          Me: all this metal shelving we brought doesn't fit in this room, they lied about the true dimensions
          Her:... there's a hardware store two blocks over, we'll get an angle grinder and fix the dimensions, we're going to need to take the skirting boards out as well do you have a crowbar?
          Me: we rent this place
          Her: so? it's a utility closet, no ones going to care

          I heard that she quit her next job (camp counsellor) because she went to get a drill to hang a painting on a wall and someone told her to put it down and let one of the boys do it.

    • Karellen says:

      I've thought "how hard can that be?" and then fucked it up enough times now that I ran out of hubris over a decade ago.

      Also, the internet - and especially YouTube - is built on lies and bullshit For The Clicks. Sure, there's some genuine stuff out there, but if I knew enough to be able to tell the difference between the bullshit and the real deal, I probably wouldn't need to watch the video. I am not magically immune to the Dunning-Kruger effect, no matter how smart I may be in other areas of my life.

  25. You don't need shop class for any of this. All it takes is YouTube and hubris.

  26. alexr says:

    I can’t name a school around here that has any kind of shop or other vocational classes. I assume that all went away with sports and art as part of the long running Republican war on education.

    • Clem says:

      Were sports actually cut?  That's legitimately surprising!

      I swear in some areas it seems like even STEM would get cut before (boys) sports.  :(

  27. 2

    Most of these skills I only learned as a grown-ass adult (many of them because becoming a homeowner forced me to), so I can't really fault anyone for not *knowing* how to do them. But in this day and age it is trivially easy to find videos and online how-to guides showing you how to do damn near everything, so that "I don't know how" should never be the obstacle.

    As much as I bemoan the state of the modern internet, I've saved myself tons of money simply because I could find YouTube videos showing me how to fix my kitchen appliances and repair plumbing problems.

  28. shop class was taken of high school curriculums in the United States in order to stifle the development of a self-sustaining Communist revolution

  29. pagrus says:

    CCSF has a bunch of contracting classes which cover all of the above and more. I have never taken any but I have taken motorcycle maintenance at the same campus, which is a pretty nice facility all things considered. You don't mention welding but they teach that there too, under the engineering umbrella for some reason? I have been told that if you really want to learn to weld a better choice might be Laney college though, still pretty convenient

  30. Logan Bowers says:

    Yep. Wife and I have a few cannabis shops with about the same number of staff. Our COO and I are the only ones capable of doing simple repair tasks. Occasionally we’ve had an assistant manager able to do some work and we jump on that.

  31. ewhac says:

    Shop class was one of my favorite classes. You got to *make* things, and learn how to use all the tools to... *Make* things!

    • jwz says:

      I have never understood how anyone could stand to watch even 5 seconds of that show. Everything about it is like nails on a blackboard to me.

  32. Jack says:

    schools are defunded, housing is so astronomically expensive people can’t afford to live anywhere near this club and have free time to learn things on their own unless they’re VC shitheads who sold out in order to fund whatever the latest crypto or AI bullshit is, medical debt destroys families and we are left arguing about the lack of practical education.

  33. derpatron9000 says:
  34. 3

    Have you considered running a simple shop class for your employees?  Offer them a chance to learn something new, combined with a reminder that you'll have jobs for them to do if they learn it well enough...

  35. Robert says:

    I took multiple years of shop class as a teenager in the 1980s, and after becoming a homeowner, I do indeed consider that to be some of the most valuable education I received.

    I also learned that, per the local municipal code, replacing an electrical outlet requires a permit! Further investigation, however, revealed that what I'd always known as an "electrical outlet" is called a "receptacle" in the code, and homeowners may replace receptacles without a permit or inspection. (I should stress that homeowners who've never heard of a "circuit breaker" should avoid this activity.)

  36. david konerding says:

    A large number of my contemporaries (around age 50) still have their shop project from middle school (an epoxy nightlight with trivial electronics encased and a wall plug) and it works.  

    We didn't learn how to maintain equipment in shop class; that was economics class.  There was an entire class dedicated to teaching you how to live cheaper, without depending as much on external services.  I guess we outsourced that to Youtube and TikTok?

    • Michael Stella says:

      I too have that night light.  In fact, I believe I built it in the very same shop class you did :)

      (It's still lighting my parents' hallway)

      • david konerding says:

        You mean Mr Tonn's shop class in middletown CT?  If so, glad to hear of another fan with a working light (some 40 years later!).  I built one recently- pretty easy!  

  37. Spike says:

    I really wanted to take shop classes in high school, but my freshman year was the first year that they stopped offering those classes. I hate that I have to watch youtube videos if I want to change a light switch or replace the flusher mechanism in my toilet, but at least I have that resource and know that it's there.

  38. Netluser says:

    Closest thing I had to shop class involved simple lectures about engineering to our class of 12 year olds, a video about maglev trains and then cutting a block of foam with a thin, really hot metal bar tool (no idea what it's called) into whatever you thought would travel fastest and gluing that to thin wood bars that had magnets on them to push it down a magnet-lined track. Mine won, because of how much of the foam (mass) I cut off in trying to immitate the look of a fast car (I assume aerodynamics played almost no role at the speeds involved).

    I also once asked my dad to show me how to make an FM radio, so he built one while I was at school and showed it to me. Built one without me, in other words.

    I weep for the generation after mine.

  39. jwz says:

    This post seems to have attracted the ire of some absolute shitheads whose comments I keep deleting, so in the interest of preventing people like them from wasting any more of my time, let me explain how things work in actual real-world small businesses.

    First, when things need doing, everyone pitches in. This means that if you're idle, you're sometimes going to do things that are "not your job". Sometimes a bartender will be helping to hump a band's gear in from the van. Sometimes security will be doing guest list. Is there a toilet exploding and everybody is busy but you? Guess who's getting handed the plunger. That's just how it is to be a part of a functioning team. If that's not cool for you, maybe the office life is more your thing. Probably not the service industry, and definitely not showbusiness.

    Second, our staff always want more hours. When we say to them, "Hey, who wants to come in and paint the floor?" they don't say HOW DARE YOU, like some of you apparently would, they say thank you. Sure, I could hire some outsider to paint the floor. Or, and here's a novel idea, I could offer that gig to people that I already employ, and pay them for additional hours at the place that they already work.

    Swear to god, I post some innocuous thing about how weird it is that so many grown-ass adults don't possess what I consider to be basic life skills, and the Shithead Brigade comes out to twist it into "you're trying to hire bartenders as electricians."

    I am not "surprised" that any given bartender is not a licensed electrician (nor did I say anything that a sane person could reasonably interpret that way).

    I am surprised that almost nobody under 35 knows how to operate a damned screwdriver. That is quite frankly baffling to me, and that's what this post was about.


    • BC says:

      the office life is more your thing

      You've almost certainly hit the nail on the head.  The folks hounding you about "that's not my job" are probably your readers from the Silicon Valley/SF, big office FAANG culture around here.

      The thought of doing something outside of their job description makes prima donnas (of any age) get in a tizzy.  Partly from:

      • sheer entitlement
      • because they're salaried ("why would anyone want extra hours?  You're that boss from Office Space asking for free extra work.")
      • because they aren't well-rounded - they ended up where they are because their personality didn't enjoy continually picking up new skills through curiosity, perhaps not even in childhood.

      The folks in a very small office or scrappy startup would take issue with us generalizing about "office life" - I've worked alongside some awesome office workers (even millennial-aged).   Finding those jack of all trades people can make or break a small startup.

      almost nobody under 35 knows how to operate a damned screwdriver

      While I aspire to your level of crotchety-ness, my mild grumpiness betrays that I'm also in the over-35 set.

      The best I can offer is hope for the next generation - my youngsters did kiwi/tinker crates, have been allowed to use home improvement tools and kitchen knives from when they old enough to ask about them and discuss safety rules, can safely use a band saw for woodworking without losing a finger, etc.

      Your rant reminds me to put "does it have shop classes?" on my checklist for the highschool search.

    • 2

      I don't think this is a particularly new phenomenon - plenty of my 40-50ish cohort can't use a screwdriver. Lots of white-collar nerds are absolutely useless at anything involving tools.

      The only reason I'm handy is I taught myself how to work on cars or swing a hammer.  God only knows my useless Boomer parents were too busy not being home to teach me anything.   

      • tfb says:

        One thing that probably has changed is that practical skills were arguably more useful longer ago.  When I was at the age where people started having cars you could buy some marginal car and both keep it going by spending a lot of time mucking around with it, and probably make it go when it broke down.  Now I'm not sure how possible that is: cars don't need so much care because paint etc is better, but when they do need care you can't even find the engine under the dense crust of electronics which surrounds it, and don't even think about being able to do anything with that crust.

        The same goes for other areas of life: more stuff we have both needs less maintenance and is less maintainable.

        That does not mean that practical skills are not still useful.  It probably does mean that, when the roof of civilisation falls in in a few decades, a lot of people will be in even worse trouble than they would otherwise be.

  40. kwk says:

    All they know is charge they phone, eat hot chip, and lie.

    It also seems that everyone I know who's a few years younger than me lives in a pigsty.  I had parents with hoarding tendencies so as a reaction I definitely believe the mantra that attachment is suffering, but I don't think most of the people I know mop or clean their bathrooms weekly like I do (but they should.)

  41. Carlos says:

    So much this.

    It amazes me that there are services you can call, who advertise, to do things like "assemble flat-pack furniture" or replace a faucet washer/cartridge, stuff like that.  Things that literally require next to nothing in terms of tools or experience to do.


  42. So today is when I learned how one is supposed to coil a cable. Suspect that this might have made years of datacentre work a bit less painful.

  43. Steen says:

    Years before I came to work for you, the guy who taught me the skills I used to work for you watched me gamely try to drag an a-frame across a dance floor and said “I swear, if I had put a wrench in your hand 10 years ago you’d be worth twice as much an hour to me.”

    (And this was before I turned your projector into a temporary flame thrower,)

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