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Throwing the switch

Working to bring awareness to the trade industry

lready a decade ago, The Great Recession of 2007 affected countries across the globe. Politicians are still picking up the pieces of debt accumulated, while the economy is working to make a strong comeback. Many businesses - both small and large - still feel the lasting sting, however.

While countries such as the U.S., Europe, and Russia suffered the most economic decline, the affect of the recession was almost worldwide. The International Monetary Fund concluded that this decline was "worst global recession since the 1930's."

However grand a scale, big economy was not the only victim.


Realizing the issue

The year 2007 brought not only the economic decline that would set the country up for a long recovery, but it also began the end of what had once been deemed the prestigious title of "The Industrial Revolution," and is now, a decade later, almost entirely obsolete.

 Little talk has been made about the trade industry and its "tradesmen," or workers who specialize in a particular occupation that requires work experience, on-the-job training, and often an informal, vocational education - not always requiring a college degree. Many people may not even be aware of what exactly the trade industry is, or its prominent role in society.

Courtney Lotzer, however, is fully aware.

Mother of two, businesswoman, and a child of a blue-collar upbringing, Courtney Lotzer has made Buffalo her home for almost seven years. Her involvement in the community varies depending on her vocational hat - she has been active in representing the community before city government, and in online promotion for Buffalo events through Facebook and also word-of-mouth. Though born and raised in De Smet, S.D., Lotzer is proud to call Buffalo her home.

In all actuality, Courtney is a "jack-of-all-trades," and puts a healthy amount of energy, passion, and dedication into everything she sets her mind to. So much so, that her network of contacts has reached so far as iHeartMedia in the Metro, where she made connections. 

One such contact is Dean Peterson, the VP of Sales, who has partnered with Lotzer to "throw the switch" on an issue that is slowly creeping over society.

For Courtney, the issue of the trade industry and its lack of awareness came to a head one day while Lotzer was talking with Peterson at iHeartMedia.

"Dean and I started talking," Lotzer said, "and it snowballed from there. It's something I am passionate about and will invest my heart and soul into, though there's a growing lack of [trades] in our society."


The facts

Much to society's surprise, the workforce took an unprecedented hit in 2007. It seemed that now, there wasn't much of a pipeline for tradesmen jobs, and that the majority of individuals of working age were now college educated with degrees and moving to "higher-end professional" jobs, with debts from high tuition rates to match.

Research quickly went underway, and the results were alarming - over 50% of those involved in trade jobs - tradesmen - were 55 years old, or older. There was little variation between ages, and research showed that hardly any millennial "up-and-comings" were working towards entering the trade industries such as carpentry, welding, electricity, and others.

Lotzer conducted her own research once the spark of curiosity was lit, and her study yielded the same results. That's when she got really busy and found that a lot of the problem lies in properly educating those preparing to enter the workforce, high school upperclassmen, and parents.

"What people don't understand is that it only takes roughly 8,000 hours of paid training on the job with a professional electrician, and a little bit of schooling, before one can take a journeyman's test to become a certified electrician." Lotzer said. "Then, from there, someone can make up to $80,000 some even $140,000 a year - and that's just starting out. But people don't know that. No one really talks about it."


Throwing the switch

Together, Lotzer and Peterson decided to start a campaign that would educate those entering the workforce about trades. To do that, they started pulling together resources to really get things rolling.

Courtney, owner and operator of West Side Electricians, in Buffalo, works with homeowners as a liaison between compaies to set up repairs and home-visits. Her experience and involvement with the trade industry - in the form of plumbers, electricians, carpenters, etcetera - has made her even more passionate regarding the trade industry. Those companies in the Metro, Wright County area, and others are interested in her effort, and are coming on board. Those involved in the industry can see the effect this issue will have on society, and they see the coming challenges.

"These jobs are jobs we are going to need," Lotzer affirmed. "Where are we going to be in 10 or so years when these jobs are obsolete because there's no one working them? Where are our kids going to be?"

Lotzer continued. "Everything around us, in our homes, offices, communities, is built by someone with a skill they've learned on the job - your pipes have water, your homes have electricity. Just ask yourself - do you know how to install a light-switch? Or put in a breaker box? Where will you or your families be when the 55+ generation of men and women in this industry are gone and there's no one coming down the pipeline, so to speak?"

Courtney concludes that if people were active in high schools and middle schools in communicating their jobs, making them known in communities, and educating families as to how one gets on a tradesmen's career path, the issue might improve.

So far, Lotzer and Peterson have been coordinating an effort for a planning and launch, where they will really sit down and examine resources and start pitching a presentation to propose partnerships between them and industry professionals who want to help bring awareness to the community.

To start, iHeartMedia's Peterson has been researching and putting together a presentation for the campaign, which they have named "#TradingUp," which highlights the facts of the issue spreading across the nation. In the start of the New Year, Lotzer hopes to have a full 3-year plan in place to give the campaign some solidarity.

"I love this industry," Lotzer explained, "and I want to educate our society. My son's in college, and he had scary questions with no one to answer them regarding this industry. I've also got a 10-year-old boy that I can see becoming a tradesmen someday, so making this information accessible to him is huge. Getting the facts right, and making sure he - and I - are educated about this spectrum of work is crucial."

The vision is to begin awareness in Wright County, and stem outward from there. So far, Buffalo companies have partnered with Lotzer in her vision to bring awareness to the community, and Dunwoody College in Minneapolis is in the works of coming on board with the operation. Someday, if all goes as planned, Lotzer hopes that iHeartMedia's involvement will bring the campaign national.

Lotzer's wish is that people in Wright County would educate themselves regarding the trade industry, and ask questions of those professionals within it.

Speculation among individuals whether the trade industry lacks glamour and recognition has risen during Lotzer's research, and whether the lack of employees in the industry is because of poor marketing, or poor recognition, has yet to be fully determined. 

"They aren't glamorous jobs," Lotzer said. "In fact, many times, people like welders or plumbers often get the shaft because they're 'shop people' or come home dirty. The fact of the matter is these jobs are necessary - and the people within the industry know it, and they are determined to get it done. The importance is no different than a doctor, or a lawyer, or a marketing specialist, only in the sense that one gets positive recognition and a cubicle, and the other navigates a shop floor, or the basement of a house."


The plan

2018 holds a great deal of work and promise for Courtney, as she begins to plan her campaign. Right now, she is working closely with partners to compile data and really get industry professionals on board.

Part of her plan to launch the operation and bring awareness to the community is getting schools involved. Courtney commented that high school seniors and juniors, those in technical schools, and men and women in need of vocational training could greatly benefit from programs like job-shadowing, where individuals would go with professionals and see their "day-to-day routine" and what exactly it is like being a professional on the job.

What's more, she hopes to get city government involved by presenting the campaign to county boards and city councils to spark involvement and get people thinking on the matter. She hopes that from that, initiative will snowball and programs will launch - whether through her campaign, or the resources of someone else is to be determined.

For now, the effort is purely focused on educating the public, until more resources fall in place. So far the #TradingUp presentation is still in progress, and an official statement and launch from iHeartMedia has yet to be announced. With the New Year just kicking off, Lotzer hopes the cards will fall into place soon, so the "official part" of the work can begin. As of the moment, she is pitching the idea to professionals in industry, companies - anyone who will really just listen and give her a "soapbox."

"Blue-collar work has so much potential," she explained. "There's just so much there for people. So much know-how to be learned - so much room to expand and grow. The only thing that's not there is the hands to make it happen. We need to throw the switch and get people educated."

After all, you can't throw a switch if there's no one to install it to begin with.



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