RICHARDSON: Making a connection

November 17, 2013 

I had an unusual thought last week, and if you know me or follow this column, having unusual thoughts is not all that unusual. A group of us, Mayor Robert Reichert; Bibb Chairman Sam Hart; Houston Chair Tommy Stalnaker; former Houston Chair Ned Sanders; Ralph Nix, executive director of the Middle Georgia Regional Commission; and Mark Byrd, board member of the 21st Century Partnership, were returning from Washington, D.C. We disembarked from the underground train at the Hartfield-Jackson International Airport and headed to the escalators.

As I carefully put my right foot on the moving steps, (I’m not as young and sure-footed as I used to be) the unusual thought hit me: This escalator and others move 24 hours a day. Who maintains them? When do they maintain them and where would someone go to be trained for a job fixing escalators?

Being an escalator repair person would seem to be a pretty secure position. Unless we invent something that makes us “Beam me up, Scotty,” the job will be around for a while. The pay? According to the website Simply Hired, lists the average annual pay for an escalator repairman to be around $61,000 depending on the location. Salary.Com lists the salary range from $54,000 to $81,000. I looked on and there were more than 200 jobs dealing with escalator or elevator repair. To put the salary in perspective, the average banker makes $45,000 per year.

I was making a connection on that escalator that millions of teenagers need to make -- a connection so many miss. What jobs are out there and what kind of education do you need to grab one? Fixing escalators may not be the most glamorous job in the world, but it’s one that can’t be outsourced.

Too many kids miss the connection because they are too busy looking down at their smartphones and tablets. While these devices hold their attention, they don’t seem to inspire curiosity about what makes them tick. The video games they play -- way too much -- teach them how to role-play and kill alien beings by the thousands, but doesn’t inspire them -- for the most part -- to find out how the games come together.

The video game market made $25 billion last year, and it would seem that folks who can sit and play “Call of Duty” for hours might want to know a little bit about the magic behind the XBox or the latest version of Playstation.

I used to be a tinkerer. I wanted to know how things worked. I was constantly taking things apart and putting them back together -- sometimes not too successfully. My favorite toys were Erector Sets and Lincoln Logs. I was surprised to know they still sell those types of toys. Lego was too expensive when I was a child and not much has changed. However, I’d rather lay out the bucks for the Lego toys than a cellphone with all the bells and whistles.

As adults and parents, it’s our job to help our children discover their gifts and talents. That means we have to expose them to as many types of stimulation as possible. I love taking my grandchildren to concerts -- and I don’t mean concerts by the latest flavor of rapper. Why pay to teach them bad English by people who wouldn’t know a Middle C if it slapped them across the face?

Don’t worry if they fidget and look bored. I took my granddaughter to the Grand Opera House to see Sphinx Virtuosi, an ensemble of black and Latino string musicians. She looked bored, but, after having her picture taken with 16-year-old African-American violinist Adé Williams, who debuted in Chicago at 6 years old, she’s now convinced her mother she wants to take music lessons. By the way, the concert, sponsored by the Knight Foundation, was free. There’s a lot of free stuff out there. All parents have to do is make the time.

You never know when an enrichment experience, from an escalator to a concert, may make a connection that lasts a lifetime.

Charles E. Richardson is The Telegraph’s editorial page editor. He can be reached at 478-744-4342 or via email at Tweet @crichard1020.

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