On the surface, today’s American manufacturing may look different from what it looked like in the seventies – CNC machines have replaced those governed by analog cams, and manufacturing has become increasingly more computer-centric over the past half-century – but when it comes down to it, there is no substitute for skilled trade workers. In fact, with the increased complexity of today’s modern machinery, the demand has never been higher for electricians, machinists, welders, and fabricators of all stripes. The problem is that since the middle of the 20th century U.S. trade education and apprenticeships have declined as the professions that drove their development continued to move offshore. At the same time our national educational agenda maintained a focus on grooming students for a college education. Our nation’s once strong manufacturing sector, made up of a well-established apprenticeship based skills system, has seen decades of decay.
All is lost not. Around the nation a groundswell of DIY interest has created a “maker movement,” a culture of individuals and businesses that decided that the only way to do something right is to do it yourself, and often times, this means figuring out how to manufacture their own products. While the will to make domestic products continues to grow, so does the gap between those who have the training and knowledge to effectively manufacture domestically and those with the desire to do so. That’s where Kelley Roy steps in.
While working in Portland’s creative culture, ADX founder Kelley Roy quickly realized that there was a demand for a place where people could learn to make things, have an opportunity to operate machines, learn to weld, consult with experts, etc. In June of 2011 she founded ADX. Since that time ADX has helped to incubate over 100 businesses and 200 crowd-funded projects, while activating and connecting thousands of designers and builders. Think of ADX as a maker gym, a place where you can come to exercise your builder passion. They offer a wide range of classes where students can learn to how to upholster, use a laser cutter, operate a MIG welder, or work with the open source electronics platform Arduino. Students can engage with experts and other novices like themselves, and like any worthwhile education, you get out what you put in. Go here to learn more about their current class schedule.
Trade jobs are a craft, and they take years of knowledge to perfect. The drop in demand for domestic trade workers over the past half-century has lead young people to have a decreased interest to enter the trade, leading to a generation gap in the apprentice culture that informs quality manufacturing. With a majority of boomer tradesmen and women closing in on retirement, the time is now to capture the wealth of knowledge that is set to leave the job force.
Thankfully, even if we’re done punching a clock, Kelly Roy and ADX have given these talented folks a location where they can come and share their knowledge and experience so that it can continue to be passed on through our community. To learn more about ADX visit their website and sign up for a class or two. If you don’t live in Portland have a look around, maker gyms are popping up all over the country and you might find that one has opened up near you.