I just gave the keynote address at a conference for high school administrators and teachers of career academies and vocational schools on Long Island, New York.
It’s one I particularly enjoyed because I have been an enthusiastic advocate for technical and career schools for many years as they quickly and affordably prepare students for careers that command a living wage.
Most people are surprised that the National Center for Educational Statistics estimates that salaries for trade school graduates aren’t that much of a drop-off compared to a four-year degree. They also seem to be much more in demand than many traditional college degrees.
Technical and trade school jobs have a median annual salary of $35,720, though this figure varies heavily based on the particular industry and the experience level of the worker. The estimated salary for bachelor’s degree holders is roughly $46,900, amounting to an annual difference of $11,180.
However, because trade school only takes an average of two years to complete versus four, that amounts to an additional two years of income for the trade school graduate, or $71,440. Factor in another $70,000 in costs for the many students who take an extra year to graduate from college, and trade school grads can be over $140,000 ahead when they enter the workforce, making up for over 12 years of difference in income.
Part of my support for trade schools stems from my experience as a manufacturer and exporter who competes daily against the Europeans, Japanese, Chinese and Koreans; I can tell you they are laser focused on bringing these good-paying technical and manufacturing jobs to their countries.
For instance, these countries have developed clear alliances between government-business-educational institutions that produce the skills needed in engineering, product design and manufacturing. There is a strong emphasis on vocational and technical training.
As an example, in Germany there is a culture that promotes and supports apprenticeships to pass along artisan skills such as tool and die making.
A Wall Street Journal report found that due to Germany’s aggressive promotion of vocational schools and skills training, the German unemployment rate for young people is below 8 percent.
German companies underwrite apprenticeship programs that allow students to gain on-the-job training three to four days a week. The rest of the time they attend vocational schools, where their skills are strengthened even further. That’s a smart approach to job creation.
It’s time to take a page from the German playbook, considering that 1 in 4 Americans aged 24-54 aren’t working. For our teenagers the situation is much worse. But the irony is that while so many of our young people are unemployed, the Labor Department estimated in June 2014 there were 281,000 manufacturing job openings; but only 248,000 were filled. That’s more than 30,000 good paying jobs that went unfilled.
So what hope can we offer today’s students? There are some 29 million non-degree jobs for career and technical training students that pay middle-class wages (between $35,000 and $75,000 annually). Nearly 40 percent pay more than $50,000 a year, according to the new study released jointly by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce and Civic Enterprises.
Some students are starting to pay attention. More than 15 million secondary and postsecondary students are pursuing career and technical education, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
The even better news is that employers are also starting to pay attention. A January 2015 survey by Hart Research Associates found that employers say that when hiring, they place the greatest value on demonstrated proficiency in skills and knowledge that cut across many areas.
The learning outcomes they rate as most important include written and oral communication skills, teamwork skills, ethical decision-making, critical thinking, and the ability to apply knowledge in real-world settings.
Indeed, most employers say that these cross-cutting skills are more important to an individual’s success at their company than his or her undergraduate major.
What this says is that the United States has missed the boat on job creation. Good jobs require good workers.
Instead of throwing money after ill-advised stimulus programs, it’s time to invest in our workforce. It’s time to give our young people the skills they need to be successful.
At a time when our entitlements are blowing up, we have 102 million able-bodied Americans out-of-work and the Labor Force participation is the lowest it’s been since 1977, something is obviously very wrong. Let’s not blame the unemployed. Let’s blame the all of us for not giving them the skills they need to compete in the global market.
I don’t say this to depress you but to point out this is a major opportunity for increased productivity. Imagine if they had the necessary skills, what that would mean to themselves, communities and our country.
There’s nothing wrong with exploring traditional colleges and universities. But our young people should spend equal time thinking about career training. It’s a pathway to good paying jobs and a more secure future. America must believe itself again and it starts with giving job opportunities to our most important citizens: our young workers.
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