The dignity of good work

To certain people, Scott Fabel is a national hero.

Fabel runs an auto body and collision repair shop in Appleton, Wisconsin. He is the 2021 winner of the All Star Award from FenderBender, the magazine of the body shop industry.

To read about him is an inspiration. He was interviewed about management techniques, he talked about the importance of investing in staff, and among many innovations, his is the first shop in Wisconsin certified to work on Teslas. Like good businessmen everywhere, he supports local nonprofits; he donated a car to a domestic violence organization. The magazine was crammed with advertisements from suppliers and vendors congratulating him.

The article didn’t say, but I’ll bet his floors are spotless. In a car repair shop.

I found this magazine in the comfortable waiting room of a local body shop where my repair was, as promised, completed in half an hour, I was treated like a valued customer, and COVID-19 safety was being carefully observed. This shop would naturally subscribe to a magazine that celebrates excellence in its industry.

The experience reminded me that any industry can be a source of pride and achievement. People in the body shop business, or any business, can live each day and go home each night feeling a sense of accomplishment. It’s not the industry you work in; it’s the attitude you bring to your work.

Which led me to reflect on the continuing discouraging news about New Mexico young people. Too many of our kids have no exposure to the realistic options life offers. Their choices are limited to what they think they know about, which might be teacher (unexciting), pro sports star (unattainable) or drug dealer (dangerous and criminal but profitable). I sometimes wonder if the teenage girls who reportedly get pregnant on purpose do so because it leads to a life path they think they understand.

I have worried (haven’t we all?) about the effects of the lockdown year on the students who had already fallen behind in school. I fear a certain percentage of New Mexico’s next generation will be lost in a rapidly changing world where they don’t have the resources to catch up.

Recently New Mexico passed a law requiring a financial literacy class as a condition of high school graduation. Now there’s a push to get those classes implemented. We hope a basic understanding of interest rates will successfully keep those young graduates from getting entrapped into an endless cycle of high-interest loans. But it won’t reach the kids who reach high school age, drop out and still can’t read.

Back at the body shop, the employee who eliminated the dent in my car was proud of the job he had done, thought of himself as a skilled craftsman and didn’t mind letting me and the boss know it. The boss thought so, too, but added that it’s hard to recruit young workers, possibly because they don’t even know this type of work exists.

There are kids in New Mexico who won’t graduate, won’t learn to read, were set further back by the pandemic and will never catch up with the learning they missed. We might as well recognize that. They can still live a fulfilling and honorable life if they learn about the choices they have, especially by in-person exposure to the real world – while they are still young enough to be curious and open to possibilities.

Perhaps our schools could make meaningful changes in those kids’ lives by regularly taking students as young as fifth grade to visit workplaces, from science labs to factories to bakeries, so they can experience firsthand the many ways they could use talents they haven’t yet discovered they have. I’d love to take a field trip of kids to that body shop.

Triple Spaced Again, © New Mexico News Services 2021

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