Why your teenager can’t use a hammer - Macleans.ca

Why your teenager can’t use a hammer

Complaints about a generation of the mechanically challenged

Why your teebnager can't swing a hammer

Philippe Huguen/AFP/Getty Images

It’s hard not to laugh when Barry Smith starts telling stories about the hapless young workers he has to deal with. Smith, who runs Toronto-area roofing company RoofSmith Canada, tells of one who didn’t come to work because his cat had fleas, and another who jumped off a shed roof, even though he’d just tossed bags of nails into the garbage bin below. But the laughing tapers off when Smith, 46, talks about skills.

“They don’t know how to handle a tool properly,” he says quietly. “They’re bright kids, but they hold a hammer at the top instead of the bottom, so it takes four swings instead of one to get a nail in. They don’t know how to read the short lines on a tape measure and they’ve never used power tools, which makes you really cautious.” He says they can’t seem to detect the patterns of the work—you rip up part of the roof, that gets thrown down, that goes into the garbage—so they just stand around. “It can get really frustrating.”

There’s much talk about a coming crisis in the trades—that we simply don’t have enough new recruits to replace an aging workforce. By some estimates, Canada could face a shortfall of up to one million skilled tradespeople by 2020. To address this shortage, the government is funding a variety of incentives to attract young talent and it’s beefing up our apprenticeship training programs—registrations are at an all-time high. But a stumbling block has emerged that’s getting harder to ignore: by all accounts, we have the least handy, most mechanically deficient generation of young people. Ever.

It’s easy to see why.

Shop classes are all but a memory in most schools—a result of liability fears, budget cuts and an obsession with academics. Still, even in vocational high schools where shop classes endure, a skills decline is evident. One auto shop teacher says he’s teaching his Grade 12 students what, 10 years ago, he taught Grade Nines. “We would take apart a transmission, now I teach what it is.” Remarkably, most of his Grade 11 students arrive not knowing which way to turn a screwdriver to tighten a screw. If he introduces a nut threaded counterclockwise, they have trouble conceptualizing the need to turn the screwdriver the opposite way. That’s because, he says, “They are texting non-stop; they don’t care about anything else. It’s like they’re possessed.”

At home, spare time is no longer spent doing things like dismantling gadgets, building model airplanes or taking apart old appliances with dad; there’s no tinkering with cars, which are so computerized now you couldn’t tinker if you wanted to. A 2009 poll showed one-third of teens spend zero time per week doing anything hands-on at all; the same as their parents. Instead, by one count, entertainment media eats up 53 hours a week for kids aged eight to 18. As for those new apprentices? They’re signing up and then they quit. Depending on the province and trade, some 40 to 75 per cent drop out before completing their program.

In Nisku, Alta., John Wright, the technical supervisor at manufacturing company Argus Machines, oversees 12 apprentices in the welding, machinist and millwright trades. Three years ago, he started noticing two tiers of applicants, those with basic mechanical skills and a new crop who, as he says, had no clue what they were doing. He speculated the disparity stemmed from their upbringing.

“The ones from the farm community weren’t afraid to get in there and get dirty. They could figure out basic repairs. And when you have to feed the chickens and milk the cows every day, you learn how to show up to work on time.” Those who didn’t have hands-on experiences couldn’t grasp basic nuts-and-bolts mechanics, they couldn’t solve simple problems. Worse, they lacked the same work ethic, which made them too difficult to train. The implications reach well beyond the trades.

Occupational therapist Stacy Kramer, clinical director at Toronto’s Hand Skills for Children, offers one explanation for what’s happening. It begins with babies who don’t get put on the ground as much, which means less crawling, less hand development. Then comes the litany of push-button toy gadgets, which don’t exercise the whole hand. That leads to difficulty developing skills that require a more intricate coordination between the hand and brain, like holding a pencil or using scissors, which kindergarten teachers complain more students can’t do. “We see 13-year-olds who can’t do up buttons or tie laces,” she says. “Parents just avoid it by buying Velcro and T-shirts.” Items that—not incidentally—chimpanzees could put on.

When the first apes climbed down from the trees to explore life on the ground some three million years ago, it was their hands, no longer used for branch swinging, that helped trigger our evolution. Hand structure changed, enabling us to perform increasingly complex grips. The conversation between hand and brain grew more complex, too. We advanced to the unique ability to visualize an idea, then create that vision with our hands. That’s meant everything from developing tools to imagining airplanes to performing open-heart surgery. So what happens if that all-important hand-brain conversation gets shortchanged at a young age? Can it be reintroduced later, or does that aptitude dissipate?

“We don’t really know,” says neurologist Dr. Frank Wilson, author of The Hand: How Its Use Shapes the Brain, Language and Human Culture. “That research wouldn’t get through an ethics committee, even though it’s happening on a massive scale in our homes every day.” We only have these uncomfortable clues, such as young people who can’t visualize how to best wield a hammer. Or teens who, despite years of unscrewing bottle tops and jars, can’t intuitively apply the righty-tighty, lefty-loosey rule of thumb.

Predictably, this is affecting other industries that depend on a mechanically inclined workforce. After NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab noticed its new engineers couldn’t do practical problem solving the way its retirees could, it stopped hiring those who didn’t have mechanical hobbies in their youth. When MIT realized its engineering students could no longer estimate solutions to problems on their own, that they needed their computers, it began adding remedial building classes to better prepare these soon-to-be professionals for real-world jobs, like designing airplanes and bridges. Architecture schools are also adding back-to-basics courses. As for the trades? Veterans like Barry Smith have little choice but to attempt to nurse a hands-on ability among new recruits one hammer faux pas at a time, teaching the next generation of tradespeople just how to hit a nail on the head.


Why your teenager can’t use a hammer

  1. What a great topic – sad but true.

    This really struck me “there’s no tinkering with cars, which are so computerized now you couldn’t tinker if you wanted to”.   The sense of accomplishment was always worth the hours of work in getting the whatever running smoothly again.  

    Do kids even climb trees anymore???

    • Read “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder” by Richard Louv, then join the Children and Nature Network (C&NN); see 
      Children & Nature Network (C&NN)

    • From a child who loved to climb trees, and grew up in a city where it eventually became against parks department policy:  Not unless adults in their lives own some trees, and let them be climbed.

    • Not only do kids not know how to use tools, many kids also never climb trees. When you consider that we no longer eat “free range” poultry, it’s no wonder that we no longer have free range children. But that’s life in the suburbs, and there’s no country in the world that has become more suburban in the last 50 years than Canada. 

  2. Perhaps the problem stems from the education system that has every child convinced that the only choice for smart people is going to university. Many young people believe that ALL university degrees will net you far more money than a trade. Surprise! Not only do you have to be smart to do well in the trades, you could be making an excellent salary after your apprenticeship (not to mention earning a good income while getting there). My advice to all you grads with a bachelor degree is to check out these trades. It sure beats that job at Starbucks!

    • Next up:  that mythical plumber who makes 100K again.

      • I would say that in some parts of the country a plumber could make 100K.

        • It’s been the same plumber, and the same wage for all my life….and it’s still hooey.

          And why we’d want a nation full of plumbers in the first place is a mystery.

          • Oh, I think the plumbers and pipefitters who work for Suncor in Fort McMurray get paid a “little more” than in other parts of the country because they get bonuses for work performance and sign-on, etc.
            You cannot make assumptions that everything is the same as where you live…a nurse in the top wage slot in Quebec makes under $32.00/hr.; in Alberta, that same nurse makes $45.00/hr.

          • I’m aware of what wages are….the point is we shouldn’t be encouraging all our young people to be plumbers and the like.

            Kids aren’t taught the skills talked about in this article anymore because the nature of work has changed.

            Next we’ll be worrying that girls aren’t being taught to use a spinning wheel anymore.

          • Have you seen these robots working on sky skrapers like the new World Trade Centre?  Have you seen them doing renos on houses?  Has one worked on your car without the assistance of a human mechanic?  Have you seen them at swimming pools?  Are they teaching your grandchildren to swim and then making sure they don’t drown?  I fully expect robotics will be big but I also know from working in a computerized hospital, that humans do not become unnecessary.  Someone has to oversee the machinery.

          • @OriginalEmily1:disqus : No, we shouldn’t be encouraging all young people to be tradespeople, but neither should we be discouraging them if that’s the field that appeals to them. Even if robotics takes over the grunt work, we will still need people who know what needs doing and to verify it is done correctly. As the article points out, practical hands-on experience coupled with “book learning” provides greater insight and often  leads to better decision-making than decisions based solely in academics.

            I know some very bright and competent tradespeople who would not swap places with this desk jockey for anything. And I’m glad they chose their fields, as I have benefitted greatly from their skills and experience. They are very often quick to adopt new technologies when they are appropriate and make sense – and to scorn bad design by people with no field experience.

            I sense a certain elitism in your POV, Emily. We need quality, skilled people in all professions. Will they make as much as someone with a university degree? Increasingly, I’d think yes they will, if they have skills and initiative; as you pointed out in one of your comments, an undergrad degree these days is like a high school diploma of a few years ago and is no guarantee of a job, let alone financial success.

            Besides, there’s more to happiness than the size of one’s paycheck.

          • Your last comment regarding the changing nature of work had no reply button so sorry, I have to reply using this box….
            When you say “the point is we shouldn’t be encouraging all our young people to be plumbers and the like….because the nature of work has changed…and next we’ll be worrying that girls aren’t taught to use the spinning wheel anymore’….
            I understand that things in the world are becoming increasing technologically advanced but I think that makes formally educated trades people even more vital.  Who will build these increasingly complex bridges and sky-skrapers if we don’t have well schooled and experienced carpenters and electricians.  Who will build the luxury spas if not plumbers and tile layers.  Yes, the architects create the plans and the engineers assess the feasibility of the projects but the actual building and repairing is done by trades people.  Who is going to fix your Hyundai, Emily, if we don’t encourage any of our children you become car mechanics?
            This article is not suggeting that ALL children should go into trades but it is saying that not everyone can or should go to university and that we do need people in trades. 

          • Well, actually we’ll be using robots…in fact we are now.

            Everyone should have basic university….it’s what high school used to be.  Entry level

            Not very inspiring to our young people to say…’Be a plumber, you’re too stupid to go to university’…..but that’s what I hear on this site and others everytime education is mentioned.

          • In support of Emily’s robot comment:

            It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see a combination of that and pre-programmed behaviors to make construction more a case of being able to properly figure out where the girders should be joined than knowing the specific technique for joining them.

          • OriginalEmily1, the problem has never been that kids are told “Sorry, you’re too dumb to be an engineer. so you should become a plumber instead.”  It’s more like, “What are you doing?  You’re a *smart* kid.  Put that wrench down.before somebody sees you.”

            So we end up with a generation of engineers who don’t know which end of a soldering iron to pick up.

          • I cannot believe it, but I completely agree with you on this.

          • Heh…then there’s hope for you yet.

          • You agree with Emily that a robot will be building your house and putting in your plumbing  or  you believe that people who go into trades aren’t smart enough to go to university?
            A power engineering student does a 2 year course at NAIT and starts at $50.00/h and is given a vehicle to drive and that isn’t a smart career choice?

          • I agree in the sense that a nation with a high percentage of manual labourers is a terrible goal, if for no other reason than that automation periodically makes most of those humans obsolete at a terrible social cost. It’s like encouraging teens in 1900 to go into the tanning trade, on the reasoning that we’ll always need leather for buggy whips.

          • I think you might be incorrect with regard to “who” gets replaced with robots.  It might be the university graduates that get replaced.  For instance, already the cardiac surgeons are passe.
            Somehow I can’t picture a robot carrying a toilet into a house and installing it but I sure can see them running a computer.  What exactly is that job you do, Emily?

          • You’re not keeping up with technology….houses now come off assembly lines…already wired and plumbed. Either already together, or able to be snapped together on site.

            I’ve seen a barge on the Amazon where arms go to the shore, snip down trees and bring them on board, run them through saws…and voila, planks.

            Running the operation?  One woman with a computer, on the bridge.

            Robots, computers, androids….all basically the same thing…just different functions. Some simple, some complex.

            I don’t run computers, I work on the web…in economic development. Hardware, software and wetware R US. LOL

          • Again, you are missing the point. The employment available is either building, running or maintaining the equipment. Only the running requires simple computer operator skills. The rest are mechanical abilities.

          • As long as we excrete and use wires to carry electricity we will need plumbers and electricians. I’m a computer scientist and let me tell you that despite what Hollywood teaches, AI will never match human reason. Yes, robots can do a lot and will get better, but we’re at least a few generations away from replacing tradesmen. It’s honourable work at a decent income. Most of the university grads I know are car salesmen.

          • Because everyone is full of $hit nowadays that our national plumbing is bursting at the welds. Mystery ‘splained.

          • LOL well, maybe in Ottawa.

          • Maybe you could take a deep breath, stop being condescending, and realize that some people have different preferences than you and like working with their hands for a living. Any education system should take into account various preferences of different people.

            Clearly there are still jobs for them, since employers are upset that they can’t find folks to work them, so your robot-utopia isn’t quite here.

          • Maybe you could stop worrying about me, and pay attention to the points made here.

            Some Canadians are very anti-education….especially for other people…and very keen to stress…in a delicate way of course…. how stupid they all are, and how they can’t possibly deal with university. So they play up the supposed glamour of people just ‘working with their hands’.

            There are thousands of jobs in Canada we can’t fill…and have to import workers for….jobs that require degrees, but that we aren’t training people for….or worse, don’t have anyone willing to train in those fields.

            I’ve said previously on here that we aren’t as advanced technologically as many other countries…..so no, we don’t have the robots and robot factories that other countries do….the point here is that we have to compete with them….and we are failing.

          • Because they can do actual work? Why would you want a nation of “fine arts” majors?

          • Because they employ the plumbers.

      • A little story to enlighten the dark. I was in my second year as apprentice. Doing a job in a building where everyone had at least ba’s or higher. Pay stubs were on the desks. I made more than them.

        Maybe the mythical part is the university degree getting 100k.

        Oh, by the way, my schooling was 8 weeks 4 times.

        • Yeah, guys who dropped out of school to work on the assembly line made more money for years than the people who stayed in school. They did a lot of jeering at the ‘chumps’ who got a degree and then started at entry level jobs. Thought they had it made.

          Of course now, the people with degrees make well over 100K, and have a future…. and the assembly lines are making 14 bucks an hour.

          Short term vs long term thinking.

          • Emily, not everyone with a degree makes over a 100K.  It depends on the degree.  Some people have multiple degrees and still don’t make 100K – perhaps you have heard of social work, teaching, nursing, physio-therapy.  Even lawyers are not assured of making fantastic money.
            I know you dislike Alberta immensely but people here without degrees are making a lot of money and they are not working on assembly lines.  They also are not “stupid”.  Just because someone does not want to go to university or cannot go, does not make them “stupid”.  Often times it is a brilliant choice for them…….in the short term and in the long term.

          • No, they don’t.  Most do. But it’s a matter of choice for them…a choice less educated people don’t have.

            I don’t dislike Alberta, I dislike this insane Alberta mythology you are all so keen on promoting.

            Lots of your kids are dropping out of school to make ‘big money’ in the oil fields…again it’s short term thinking and doesn’t bode well for your future.

          • People in Alberta are making a lot of money without degrees because up in Fort Mac having both hands and the ability to get up in the morning qualifies you for a job worth 50k or more.  We also have the highest high-school drop-out rate in the country, for the exact same reason.

            Sure, smart in the short term, but in 15 years or so, those jobs are going to be gone once the place is built up and down to the skeleton crews needed to run it.  Those kids will mostly have another 50 years of life to live beyond that, and will be trying to do so with no training, and competing against the next generation which will have as much or more training in the tech of that time.  

            To say that often it’s a brilliant choice for them in the long-term is to show you have no idea of what the long-term is bringing with it.

          • Incomplete education can be completed later, but a few years’ worth of very high salaries cannot necessarily be replaced. Maybe some of those people could use their savings from those years to later finance their higher education without getting into debt. That is, if they don’t simply open their own business. On the other hand, finishing high school before catching the remaining years of the economic boom may not necessarily be better because they’ll forget what they learned in school. They’ll forget even if they quit, but at least they’ll waste less time, since they won’t have to take courses twice, once to get a high school diploma and a second time to relearn what they need to know. If, for instance, they forget math, they work for a few years and then they go to university, the university may make them take remedial classes.

          • of course, those guys who dropped out of school all did it for the huge bucks? it has nothing to do to the fact that they get bored in class because their teachers, who went to university, by the way, simply don’t know HOW to teach. When a 10 year old has to go to his grandparent for math help because his teachers don’t bother teaching anybody but the brightest, is it any wonder they get fed up and quit?

          • I don’t recall saying anything about great teaching…either then when teachers didn’t require university,  or now.

            Teachers then and now taught to the lowest common denominator….the brightest weren’t considered in need of help.

          • Sometimes Judy, the people who become teachers were people who did really well in school.  They cannot conceptualize how ANYBODY can’t get the simple things they are teaching because those things came so easy to them.  Consequently, they do not pay attention to the fact that different people learn in different ways – some are verbal learners; some visual.  They label people as “stupid” because they are inept teachers.  Those labels really erode the self-confidence of bright students.  There are also students who have disabilities like ADHD, which they outgrow as adults.  If they have their self-esteem intact, they can return to school later and thrive but once you have not been successful, it is really difficult to go back.  It takes a lot of courage.

          • The teacher’s colleges students of most major universities tend to have the lowest test scores of all university students. So your “people who did really well” line is false. For the most part teachers are teachers because they can’t do anything productive.

        • Oh wow. You haven’t veen out in the field much haven’t you? Most people who come with degrees and are super smart seriously can’t do basic stuff like twisting wrenches or understanding wd40 won’t unloosen a valve under thousands of pounds of pressure. Sure you can do calculus, but you couldn’t fix my vehicle to save your life.

      • Next up: the mythical liberal arts major who makes $40k a year.

        • Must be a new hire then.

          • No, the myth is that a liberal-arts graduate has gotten a job other than at MacDonalds.

          • Any liberal arts grad who is working at MacDonalds has no ambition or work ethic.

    • Or a minde and soul destroying government office gig where there is no bottom line, no job well done, just a process that never ends and accomplishes nothing.

      • Yeah, assembly line work, or fixing a toilet, is really soul-inspiring.

        • Emily1, who’s going to build the car, fix the car, repair your toilet, get rid of our trash, clean up the condoms in the park, or renovate your home? A web designer or QA specialist? We need all kinds, and it’s WORKING that gives dignity, not necessarily the kind of work.

          • We already went through this. Robots for the most part. Tech has moved ahead farther and faster in the rest of the world than here.

            Hard to be dignified fixing an overflowing toilet.

          • What kind of work do you think a nurse with a degree does…or a physician for that matter.   More often than not, their work is not very “dignified’ either….given that they deal in bodily fluids and the orifices they come out of….and what do you know…they have gone to university – some of them for many years.  Gee, I wonder if they find there jobs soul-inspiring.

          • @healthcareinsider:disqus 

            I think ‘saving lives’ would inspire them.

          • Emily, I’m dying to know, what do you do for a living?  “Saving lives” and “improving lives” are very similar as well.  Keeping up a system that helps a person to live is gratifying, and usually the person whose life is being kept up is aware of the benefit, whether it is a clogged artery or a clogged drain.  It’s not what you do, it’s how you do it. 

            I’d also like to point out just for the record that if we did not have government regulations ordering us not to do much of our own plumbing, and unions deciding who can and what they get paid, we’d see different numbers in salary as well as in youth mechanical ability. 

          • @google-14bf789c9580188a0d9b21bbb8a75bd6:disqus 

            I’m in economic development, and I work on the web.

            If you don’t unclog a drain, it’s inconvenient….if you don’t unclog an artery a person dies.

            I don’t know of any govt order not to do your own plumbing.

          • Who’s less dignified — the person who’s got the skills to fix the toilet, or the one who doesn’t even know how to use a plunger? The only undignified thing about a knowledgeable plumber getting his/her hands dirty is — given current fashion trends — his/her uninvited “smile”. But then again, if you’re right, we wouldn’t have to worry about being “flashed” by a robot.

          • you are wrong about the clogged toilet not harming anyone. clogged toilets tend to back up into the rest of the house, spreading diseases like cholera and dysentry More people have died from improper sanitation over the centuries than from occluded arteries

          • @judyt00:disqus 

            Tsk…one clogged toilet and civilization ends.

          • I think maybe you’ve been born ahead of your time, like those in the ’50’s who said we’d all have flying cars by now, if not living in space.  The cost for a robot that can replace human workers in any trade would be astronomical today, if it could be built, which it can’t.

            The real problem here is people/governments/organizations who think they know best what other people, and (more to the point) other people’s children should do when they grow up. That is socialism – and it’s failed everywhere it’s been tried.

          • @KJQ

            Well we do have flying cars, and people are living in space.

            We also have robots building all manner of products.

            Now they are planning factories to operate in a partial vacuum to reduce wear and tear. Obviously no humans are going to be in there. Robots can repair other robots.

            It has nothing whatever to do with what people think your kids should be, or socialism.  It’s technology.

          • When did RL turn into a scifi movie? I have yet to see any of these robots you seem to think are already taking up to slack on manual labor or are you in the position to tell us that they are coming any day now? You seem to be coming across as faintly trollish or lacking in non confontational speach paterns.

    • I agree! University is great for some people. Others however, can’t learn in a lecture hall filled with 500 other people. I personally am planning on going to college to become an ultrasound technician. I could, in theory, go to university to get into this profession. But in order to have ACTUAL JOB SKILLS I would have to go to college anyways after finishing my undergrad degree. There will not be, in my lifetime, a robot that can unclog a toliet, or wire a home. There will always be a need for someone to “give you light”, “clean up your poo”, and someone to tell you when the baby’s due. I find it very arrogant to suggest that everyone should attend university now. I know many a student who would struggle with that level workload. Not because they’re stupid, but because they have to try really hard in the COLLEGE stream at high school to obtain 70-75%. Those grades would not be acceptable to any university. Just my two cents.

  3. Righty tighty, leftie loosie

  4. Occupational therapist Stacy Kramer, clinical director at Toronto’s Hand Skills for Children, offers one explanation for what’s happening. It begins with babies who don’t get put on the ground as much, which means less crawling, less hand development. Then comes the litany of push-button toy gadgets, which don’t exercise the whole hand. That leads to difficulty developing skills that require a more intricate coordination between the hand and brain, like holding a pencil or using scissors, which kindergarten teachers complain more students can’t do.

    Where is the proof for this?  Citation from research from a recognised scientific journal,  please.

    • “That research wouldn’t get through an ethics committee, even though it’s happening on a massive scale in our homes every day.”

      You just can’t see, can you?

      I wonder how old you are.

    • ProofPlease – The Clinical Director of a clinic that specializes in “hand skills for children” is relating the experiences of the clinic in terms of the kinds of referrals they get and the reasons for the referrals and you want journal citations…..
      You just need to go into a grade one classroom to see how many children cannot tie their shoes.  Children are not hitting the milestones anymore and parents are not concerned.  They are also fine with them staying in the home until they are 30 years old.  Just look around, you don’t need a scientific journal to tell you this is true.

      • So use velcro…I don’t see tying shoes as a lifeskill.

        • How about tying a suture for an ER physician – do you see that as a life skill…because according to the article…the fine motor skills that enable that ER doc to tie suture begin with learning to tie her shoes. 

          • …or tying a ribbon on a gift…is that a life skill?
            I am going to take a stab in the dark and say that you don’t have children if you think it is okay for a 13 year old (as described in the article) not to know how to tie his/her shoes.  Have you run across many shoes with velcro tabs for a 13 year old?

          • @healthinsider:disqus 

            Bows come already tied, and with 2-sided tape

            I wear shoes with velcro tabs…or slip-ons…as do millions of others

            I am 65 and have grandchildren.

            Gawd, how did the world ever survive when we gave up high-button shoes?

            Things change…move on.

          • Yah, you are 65…they make slip on and velcro shoes for old ladies.  It is not always the case for kids that are 13.  Why would you want to handicap a kid by not teaching them every possible skill that you can to succeed in life, including tying a bow and a knot and riding a bike?

          • @healthinsider:disqus 

            No dearie, they make velcro shoes for everyone.  Look at people’s feet the next time you’re on the street or in a mall. Especially adults.

            Tying a shoelace isn’t rocket science…you can learn how in under 1 minute.  Toddler’s have a hard time because they don’t have the muscle control or dexterity as yet…but knowing how isn’t a major concept.

            I learned lots of things growing up…tanning a hide, making candles, baking from scratch…all of which have been useless skills.

            Why waste time teaching kids useless skills?

            Success in life doesn’t come from tying bows and riding bikes anymore than it comes from skinning a deer or making lye soap

            Buy em a computer. An X-box. An iPhone, an iPad…send em to the Khan academy online for calculus…or maybe actual rocket science.

          • I have a 16 year old.  The cool shoes don’t have velcro and we aren’t talking about toddlers not having skills, we are talking about age appropriate simple skills.  I didn’t make this stuff up.  If you can’t hammer in a nail, you can’t hang a picture.  Who cares if you have an ipad, if you can’t even do the activities essential to daily living. 

          • Re your “rocket science” comment: bad career choice. Most rocket scientists are out of work; NASA laid ’em all off when the shuttle program ended. Now, if they had a trade…


          • @KeithBram:disqus 

            I know you’re trying to be funny here, but NASA is still operating….as are the other space agencies around the world.

          • Dear, dear Emily, do you know the limitations of velcro?  You don’t see many velcro soccer boots, hiking boots, army boots, or skates.  Oh well, at least I know my son will know how to fix a small engine, hammer a nail, measure a board, shoot a rifle,  and tie his own frickin’ shoes.  And I sure hope that his competition is your grandchild.

          • @google-2b68b67edc4ddb0829e52e1141f3a9cf:disqus 

            Oh my goodness….such worry and fretting over shoe laces…something learnable in less than a minute.

            Your kid won’t be competition for anybody with those skills I’m afraid. We left the 50’s over half a century ago.

          • Emily, I said the hammering & shoe tying were skills young children should have, in agreement with the article.  You said they were unnecessary.  I never said they were “difficult” to master.  In fact, all the kids in grade 1 when I went to school could tie their shoes.  I don’t understand what has evolved that they cannot now.  As for your assertion that they can wear velcro shoes, you can’t serious sports wearing velcro.

          • @healthcareinsider:disqus 

            Are you still on about shoe laces?

            Really, I had no idea this was such a difficult thing for you.

            Kids can still tie shoes….honest, IQs are going up not down.

            Which is why it’s not a big deal or a life skill anymore.

          • Wow, did you even read the article???????
            The whole point of THIS ARTICLE is that children are having issues as adults because they are not learning dexterity skills as children. 
            I have noticed a tendency with you, Emily.  You believe whatever you want to without regard to what is being presented in the articles that are published.

          • @healthcareinsider:disqus 

            Wow…you are getting increasingly silly on this.

            People aren’t any less dexterous than they’ve ever been…they just use different skills. It’s not a matter of ‘belief’ it’s a matter of job skills in today’s work place.

            Somebody should buy you a lacing toy for Xmas seeing as this worries you so much.

          • “I learned lots of things growing up…tanning a hide, making candles,
            baking from scratch…all of which have been useless skills.”

            Maybe for you. My wife has these skills and uses them all the time. It saves us a fortune having her make and bake almost everything we consume from scratch. These skills will really come in handy when the (imminent) crash comes and the new depression begins.

            Incidentally, she is also home educating our twin sons aged 16, who are currently testing at university level and completed a 1st year university accounting course last year (at 15). And no, they’re not geniuses (I think).

            You should also do a bit more history. IQ’s are neither rising nor falling as time goes on (admittedly an estimate as IQ testing is relatively new historically speaking). There is a lot of data supporting the view that we are “dumbing down” are children by extending the public school system which is geared towards teaching what to think, instead of how to think. Look up anything by John Taylor Gatto if you want the facts.

          • @KJQ

            99.9% of humans long ago left the hunter/gatherer stage…however there are still a few primitive tribes around that live that way. Mostly in the Amazon.

            Most people do not live the way you do either….so there is no need to teach our children skills that 99.9% of them will never use. We need skills for the future, not the past.

            My grandchildren are also home-schooled…but certainly not in subjects they’ll have no use for.

            IQs are indeed going up. It’s called the Flynn effect.


        • its not the tying of the shoes that is the life skill, its the ability to control fine muscles that is the skill needed to even use a can opener. just ask a person with arthritic fingers how much it has inconvenienced them. sure, you can still type, but opening a can or jar to eat, that’s a whole different story, and if they never get those skills and muscle control in the first place, then what?

          • Billions of people in the world have never tied shoes, and manage to do just fine.

            Try using chopsticks sometime.

          • yeah, well those kiddies who can’t tie their shoes, don’t have to use chopsticks, welcome to CANADA

          • See, there’s your problem.

            The Chinese are eating us for lunch….with or without chopsticks….so maybe you could stop being so parochial and start promoting education instead of mindlessly waving a flag.

  5. There’s a hole in my bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza.
    There’s a hole in my bucket, dear Liza, a hole….

  6. Tinkering may be limited due to technology, but not tinkering at all is a condition that has been breed into the kids. Fear of getting hurt, dirty, making a mistake.
    Look at the kids of today and they all are willing to take the leap of faith and try something, after all, what other generation thinks of themselves as invincible and do the crazy things that make parents cringe.
    Many parents on the other hand, do not know how to promote basic hand eye coordination, however, they sure know how to discourage it. “Don’t touch” “You don’t want to do that” “Stop!, your going to get dirty”.
    Perhaps getting down to the level of the kid and participating in the dirty activity would promote basic skills for both the parent and child. Remember, the children are fearless and it is the guidance given to them that makes them able people.

    • A great resource for people who agree with you is “The Teenage Liberation Handbook” by Grace Llewellyn, a former English teacher in the California school system. The book is about the value of homeschooling/unschooling and how kids learn best when they’re encouraged to explore, including getting their hands dirty. Read it and weep that most of us babyboomers weren’t introduced to this thinking 50 years ago.

      • It sounds like a good read but I am not ready to blame the school system for the lack of skills and common sense in the world.  I think parents have to teach their children how to survive, how to think critically, and how to lead successful lives – not so much in terms of making tons of money but in having successful relationships and caring for themselves and other people.

        • So in other words, the kid’s problem is your fault.
          I can accept that.

          • Absolutely, Thwim.  As a parent, I accept that it is my responsibility to prepare my children to be contributing, responsible, members of society.  If my kid hasn’t hit any of the milestones and is a self-centred twit, it is pretty much my fault.
            I think it is interesting what the article says about the differences in kids from farm communities and also the fact that NASA doesn’t hire people that don’t have mechanical hobbies.  Medical school applicants are usually culled in terms of whether or not they do volunteer work in the community.  Yes, your marks have to be good but you also have to show that you are a person willing to make sacrifice for the good of others – something your parents should teach you is the right thing to do.

  7. As an apprentice myself I found this article particularly accurate. I took a pre-apprenticeship program to help with the theoretical aspects of the truck and coach trade. It was quite evident in my class who had what it takes to pursue a career and who lacked enough common sense to figure things out on their own; there is a good percentage of them. The portion of the article that mentioned about youth from the farming communities seemed particularly accurate.

    I will say though that the money getting into a trade is not all that great, finding a job is quite the struggle with no experience, and even trying to prove yourself as being somewhat competent to an employer who has a prejudice against a younger generation is no walk in the park. I don’t blame those who do get into an apprenticeship and realize it’s just not worth finishing, you really need to love what you do.

    • I agree with your second paragraph especially. My brother– who tinkers on cars all the time, can take apart and rebuild an engine in his spare time and loves it, quit the apprenticeship program he was in a few years ago because the lack of respect from elders and crap money he’d be making for several years after completion made him sick of it.

  8. Argument by anecdote? Forgive me if I don’t take the teachers’ word for it that it’s all this newfangled texting, consarnit, that must be the explanation.

  9. So goes for being able to make a meal or cook – home ec classes are gone and we have a generation that really can’t feed themselves.  None of these skills are hard to learn, but parents and children don’t feel the need to actually learn them – someone else can do the hard work, the dirty work – I’m entitled to be served. 

  10. I do a mechanical/technical job. I am close to retirement, I cannot find anyone with the skills or ability take over my small, but lucrative biz. It is not only the actual bench work, but most young people don’t know how to greet a customer, nor handle a business phone call, nor are they very enthusiastic about learning something new. They somehow believe that they come as a finished product … a viable and desirable package.

    They also have no idea about accounting, banking, balancing books, stock taking, ordering stock etc. I met young people at the senior high school level who didn’t know how to fill out a check.Not only have a generation of doting parents spoiled their children, but our Marxist educational system teaches nothing but how deserving they are of a free ride through life.

    They all got ribbons and trophies for merely showing up …. we are paying for that lunacy now.

    Competition is what makes the world go around, not co-operative collectivism. That works well in a herd of sheep or cattle whose gig it is to be eaten by us …. but humans are different. The left hasn’t figured that out. Who will eat the left? Muslims don’t eat pork, plus the left are their allies against freedom, the Chinese however, will eat anything.

    • So tell me. Who did that? If you’re near retirement, then the generation that did the “lunacy” you’re speaking of is your own damn kids.  Tell me, why didn’t you teach THEM better?

    • You don’t happen to live in eastern Canada?  My home educated twin sons (16) are still undecided what careers to pursue. They’ve had 7/361 paper routes for years, job shadowed with plumbers, electricians, machinists etc.  Taken WHMIS, First Aid, CPR. They completed a 1st year university accounting course last year.  I would love for them to work for someone such as yourself.

    • An editorial cartoon (which I wish I’d kept) had a great line where an executive laments that shortly after he’d been hired, he was given a small project to do.  He finished it on time and within the budget allocated.  Soon after, he was promoted to vice president.  “Apparently,” he said, “nowadays, basic competence is considered extraordinary.”  Sad, but true.

  11. On the other hand, that kid who holds a hammer at the top end may also happen to be the one who programs the just-in-time ordering system that allows the hardware store to lower the price of shingles because they don’t have to store as many, or who develops the next technology in shingles that makes them self-adhesive when aligned properly, thus eliminating the need for hammers altogether.

    There are always trade-offs. For everything we teach, there are other skills that we didn’t have the time to teach. And until we can say that the skills they *are* learning aren’t as useful as the skills they aren’t anymore, whining about it isn’t terribly intelligent.

    • or it just may be the kid at the mall in a few years with his cellphone glued to his or her ear who doesn’t even know how to greet a customer or put stock on a shelf. and where are they learning this? At school is where! Nobody ever fails  at school, they just get bumped up to the next level with their peers even though they can’t read, write or do basic math. Even if the parent tells the school to hold the kid back, the school system won’t. It just might hurt their little feelings. And now, we have a whole generation to prove that that system fails  the student.

  12. I’m an American who was a summer Canadian all my childhood and love and respect the country and it’s people.  I think this discussion is not much different from the one we have in the States.  Can we all not recognize that BOTH types are still needed.  It’s going to be a long time before a robot comes into my home to diagnose and fix plumbing, electricity, redo my woodwork etc.  Yes, manufactured housing will increase.  Will there still be “custom built”, I think so. Also people are still making this terrible blunder of confusing “education” with intelligence”.  I know way too many truly intellecturally dumb people with college degrees and lots of very intelligent people who neither have nor want one.  And as a note to the kids who don’t understand tools, my husband who is a general contractor had his best carpenter not show up one day. When he called and asked why the man’s wife said- “he lost his hammer”. There were probably 20 other hammers in tool supply

    • delete comment

    • Which is why some Role Play Game systems have Intelligence and Wisdom as separate statistics.  Two entirely different animals.

  13. I have only read a few of the comments, but I think many of them miss one vital point. Who is going to design and who is going to build, program and service the robots to do everything you predict if there is no one who understands how things work and how to problem solve? The good news is that Lego has tapped into this need and the way to train future robotics engineers and programmers. Kids start by building and then using “drag and drop” programming to solve problems and get jobs done with their robot. Then they move on to more sophisticated building, problem solving and programming. My 11 year old is very “into” bilding these robots. He has also learned a lot of electronics and is now learning programming in different languages. He follows the installers around when we change our TV program service and asks questions. He gets new parts (Lego or electronic) and tries out making new ideas and doing things a different way (not with the TV service!). He loves all this and his “play” is laying a foundation for more advanced learning of physics and engineering. But the hands-on problem solving coupled with learning some facts is what makes it possible.

    PS. We homeschool so he has plenty of time for these things, plus 4-H robotics projects.

    • Homeschoolers are definitely going to be the majority of leaders in the next few years!

  14. This is utter schlock.  Just completely indefensible, lazy nonsense.

  15. Like other countries in the West, Canada’s economy has shifted from being industrially and agriculturally based to being more and more dependent on the services and hospitality sector. When you consider that we appear to have more need of cashiers than tool and die makers, it’s no wonder that Johnny Canuck doesn’t know how to use a hammer or a paint brush. 

    More than 40 years ago, when I was 11 years old, my father busted a ball joint on our 1960 Chevrolet Impala while we were visiting relatives in Hawkesbury, Ontario. Since it was on a Sunday, all the garages in Hawkesbury were closed. Luckily, my uncle Raymond had a lathe and a boring mill in his garage. My uncle Raymond was able to fashion a ball joint out of some cold steel, and we were able to make it back to Windsor before my father had to be back at work on Monday. 

    When people lived on the farm (like my father’s family in Hawkesbury), people had to be able to run a lathe or a boring mill, in case the tractor broke down. They also had to know how to use a hammer.

    • The cashiers we’re getting often aren’t any great shakes either.  University student working part time as a cashier next door couldn’t work out the change in his head on a $10.54 purchase from the $22 tendered.  A time to worry.

  16. removed – misplaced

  17. Here in Saskatchewan, we, too are finding students who don’t even know which end of a hammer to hold!  However, here at E.D. Feehan Catholic High School in Saskatoon our students are still enrolled in Industrial Arts and, once they are in grade 11 or 12, have the opportunity to enroll in our Construction class or in the second semester, our interior finish class.  With the construction class, students have the opportunity to actually build a house!  Starting from the ground up, students learn the basics of framing a Ready to Move (RTM) home two hours every afternoon.  They frame and stand up walls, build and sheet the roof, as well as shingling. The students install windows and doors, insulate, vapor barrier  and instal  vinyl siding.  Continuing into the second semester, the interior finish students will also install drywall, and mud and tape the drywall, paint, instal laminate flooring, and cupboards.  In addition, they will also assist a journeyman electrician in rough in wiring.  We will be starting to build our third RTM next week.

  18. This is why I firmly believe every kid/young adult should work on a farm at least once, 6 months minimum, maybe even 3 months.

    I tried it, did a good job on my mechanical skills, might’ve joined a trade too ‘cept that farming isn’t exactly glamorous work for a lot of reasons, and incidentally enough it would seem that the experience also had the curious effect of making me smarter (lots of outside-the-box problem solving on a farm).  That said, I majored in Electrical Engineering instead.

    See, that’s a big problem right there, as far as I can tell most kids smart enough to possess mechanical skills are also probably smart enough to become an engineer, or a scientist, or any higher-paid problem solver.  We need to stop looking down on trades so long as we still depend on gifted people to perform them.

  19. OriginalEmily1 is a complete idiot along with 99.99% of the rest. A bunch of fat spoiled couch potatos in for a very rude awakening. The reason children today can’t produce a good fart is because neither could their parents. If a child grows up looking at a couch potato, They too will be a couch potato.

  20. “Everyone should have basic university….it’s what high school used to be.  Entry level”

    Why is it that we have to go to University to get the same education as high school students used to.  Seems to me there’s something wrong with what is being taught and nothing wrong with choosing what profession people want to go into. Time to update curriculum instead of teaching the same stuff from the 1800s.  Teachers need to jump on board with what is happening today instead of yesterday’s standards.

  21. This topic has nothing to do with nature.  It deals with parents being overly protective and coddling their children to the point that they can not take care of themselves.  If you do everything for your kid the kid will ot beable to do things for itself when they have to.

  22. My 23yo son just removed and installed a new toilet for us, yesterday.  (He’s a high school math teacher.)  When they were younger, my oldest sons demolished and redid another bathroom.  They’ve all been tinkerers.  They even know how to lay a roof!  I credit my husband, boy scouts and limiting computer time! 

  23. Very smart, very polite waiter in Italian restaurant today. Wasted 2 years studying pschology, gave up and got a top degree in mechanical engineering. With university fees he is £45,000 in debt.He should have gone for an apprenticeship which he wholeheartedly agrees! Too late!
    Why don’t they learn?

  24. I take my kids to every build and grow that lowes and home depot have. They have toys that they have to put together. My next move is to erector sets. My kids will have skills. Schools need to get back to that. We are raising a generation of idiots who can talk a good game but can’t execute it.

  25. The day of getting dirty seeing what makes thing work is gone,, Kids now want to beat games with hand held controllers, give any kid a saw, wrench or screw driver and ask them to do something with it will be a complete waste of time,, tried in vain to teach my boy who’s 18 now to help me fix the lawn mower, or the snow blower and all I get is I have to go to the bathroom ,, not to be seen again

  26. I encounter this problem on a regular basis. Good trades people are becoming ever difficult to find.

  27. The problem stems from the elementary school years when many children take apart their bicycles, the lawn mower, an armchair, or re-cements a vase that the cat broke.

  28. Skilled trades now have the opportunity to make more than the BA’s, I am an aircraft mechanic and all of the guys working for me make well of $100000/ year! They are the older guys that have some skills, I wouldn’t payy new guys that, most of them can barely spell there own names