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Punch Drunk: Why Millenials Want to Work With Their Hands


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Young people want to be bartenders and barbers and craft brewers and even butchers these days. These almost-working-age adults don’t want their fathers’ jobs or even their older brothers’ jobs. They don’t want to work in computers or business or financial services. This, according to the Wall Street Journal, is an ongoing trend. The newspaper is calling it the gentrification of the work force: Jobs — like gentrified neighborhoods — that were formerly low-status and blue-collar are now becoming attractive.

But why?

Richard Ocejo, a sociologist and author of the new book, “Masters of Craft: Old Jobs in the New Urban Economy,” tells the Journal that millennials want jobs that “are based in using your hands, with actual tools and materials, to provide a tangible concrete product.” Millennials are turned off by the “the ephemerality of the digital age,” he says.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, by 2024 the number of people working as bartenders and barbers will grow by 10 percent. Butchers, 5 percent. It’s not as if every kid is rushing out to buy a shaker tin or a first meat cleaver, but that’s solid growth.

Obviously, there is something hip about being a bartender or a tatted-up barber. There’s a certain cachet. We go to and feel hopelessly out of place at stylish bars and upscale salons, because of the people who work there. We want to be that cool. Now I can’t say I’ve ever been really intimated by the modishness of a butcher, but I don’t frequent the cool new butcheries either. I bet they make it look really sexy.

According to Ocejo, other professions are seeing an influx of young, educated people — bookbinding, furniture-making and fishmongery. I can see that. What young adult hasn’t at least considered giving up a job in real estate or banking and entering the slimy field of fishmongery? I’m not saying that sarcastically, either. I’ve sat in a cubicle, and most of the time I was sitting there, I would rather have been handling fish or even binding books. Side note: If you ever meet a bookbinder at a party, plant yourself in front of them, because have they got some wild tales.

In most of the jobs Ocejo studied, workers interact closely with customers in public, showcasing their skills. Think of a bartender who’s expertly making you a drink. It’s impressive to see someone with passion, using their hands, doing what they love.

Now I didn’t bartend for many years because of my passion for drink-making. But I did do it to impress customers and get laid, so in a sense, I’m part of the growing trend. OK, maybe I’m not a great example of the movement.

Perhaps other fields will re-blossom as young adults move away from traditional career paths. Like candle-making. Now, there’s a growth industry. “You in the market for candles? My buddy Dave is a chandler. Best chandler you’ve ever seen. He’ll chandle you up something real nice!”

Or what about blacksmith? Nothing hotter than a blacksmith. Get you a man or a woman who can forge, draw and bend, and you’ll never have pay for the repair of your wrought iron gate again. Meet you a ’smith who’s a farrier as well, and you’ve hit the jackpot, my friend. I hope the next piece on millennials is titled, “Why Shoeing Horses is So Hot Right Now!”

I want to make it clear that I’m not denigrating these professions. Working with one’s hands and creating things is high toil, and despite that the median wage of most of these professions is considerably lower than those of typical white-collar ones — according to the Wall Street Journal, median pay for these jobs was less than $30,000 a year in 2016 — there is something to be said for job satisfaction.

I knew that I didn’t want to be a bartender forever, but I knew then, at the moment, that I was happy. I was much happier than when I worked in sales. Happiness is the reason I quit to become a bartender. And it’s the same reason I might quit my current job to become a candle-maker.

Well, that and to get laid.

Ladies love a good chandler. S

Jack Lauterback also is co-host of “Mornings with Melissa and Jack” on 103.7 Play weekdays from 6-9. Connect with him at letters@styleweekly.com, or on Twitter at @jackgoesforth.



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