There have been a lot of proposals out of Washington lately on ways to make college more accessible and affordable for more students. These ideas include making community college free for qualifying students, capping student loan payments and forgiving student loan debt.
All of these ideas have something in common – they place a higher priority on academic accomplishment now, versus a workforce education later.
No one would argue that higher education is laudable and can set students down a path to future success. And our country is chock full of excellent colleges and universities. Unfortunately, tuition costs have risen by 945 percent since 1980 – so high that student loans send a seven out of every ten students into the world already $27,000 in debt.
And those hard earned degrees don’t guarantee a well-paying career. Today’s job market is so competitive that fewer than four in ten college graduates are working at jobs that require no more than a high school diploma.
Fortunately, policymakers are also starting to recognize a portion of the economy that is struggling to find good workers that doesn’t necessarily need that expensive degree – Skilled trades.
These jobs include electricians, welders and many others who perform the manufacturing tasks that build and maintain the infrastructure for the rest of our economy. USA TODAY calls these jobs “middle skill” because they require some training, but not a bachelor’s degree. With retiring baby boomers and several generations of students who have opted for college degrees, a USA TODAY analysis estimates there will be 2.5 million of these new jobs opening up by 2017.
To help meet this demand, the federal government is pledging nearly $200 million in grants for the vocational education and apprenticeships that lead to jobs in the skilled trades.
This should be a welcome shot in the arm, given the success of apprenticeships in other countries, particularly Germany, as explained in The Atlantic:
“Today in America, fewer than 5 percent of young people train as apprentices, the overwhelming majority in the construction trades. In Germany, the number is closer to 60 percent—in fields as diverse as advanced manufacturing, IT, banking, and hospitality. And in Europe, what’s often called “dual training” is a highly respected career path.”
With “Dual training,” trainees split their days between classroom instruction and on-the-job time at a company, blending classroom learning with real-work practice. Trainees also get paid for their time in both settings, with an eye toward the future:
“The arrangement lasts for two to four years, depending on the sector. And both employer and employee generally hope it will lead to a permanent job—for employers, apprentices are a crucial talent pool.”
Shifting gears on the way we think about life after high school is a small step toward balancing the nation’s workforce with the job market. Without breaking the bank.