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Mark Gardner | Assessment, Education, Social Issues | August 25, 2010

Welders Wanted


Z6YvsS The economy is struggling...all indications suggest that a good job is hard to find.

Certainly the role of the American public school has little influence on the grand scale of mortgage defaults and consumer confidence, right? Sure, maybe requiring 12-grade personal finance might have prevented a few upside-down mortgages and minimized consumer debt, but I think there is a bigger way which policymakers and schools have failed our economy. A recent headline caught my eye: Lack of skilled workers threatens recovery. That tells me maybe a good job isn't what's hard to find, but it's good workers who cannot be found. Simply, there are jobs out there but there are not workers to fill those jobs because they lack the necessary experience and training. I certainly believe it. The article by Nick Zieminski points out:

Since the 1970s, parents have been told that a university degree -- and the entry it affords into the so-called knowledge economy -- was the only track to a financially secure profession. But all of the skilled trades offer a career path with an almost assured income...and make it possible to open one's own business...

Isn't small business central to the economy of our nation? Certainly churning out a bunch of MBAs or English majors doesn't provide the kinds of small businesses that can sustain economic growth. Entrepreneurship and business smarts are good, but that business must also provide crucial services--and this doesn't mean another boutique cupcake shop. This means a good local contractor or other skilled worker. The article continues:

The skilled trades category also includes jobs like bricklayers, cabinet makers, plumbers and butchers, jobs that typically require a specialist's certification.

Older, experienced workers are retiring and their younger replacements often do not have the right training because their schools are out of touch with modern business needs. Also contributing to the shortage is social stigma attached to such work.

I know many of us on this blog have advocated for greater support of vocational arts and sciences in public schools...meanwhile the emphasis in our system continues to fall on testing, testing, testing. We've so prized "college track" above everything else that the article points out that fewer than ten percent of freshmen-age high schoolers in the United States see themselves in skilled trades or "blue collar" occupations in their future--they cannot even picture themselves doing such (necessary but perhaps less glamorous) work. I have no doubt that the social stigma surrounding these jobs has come from the constant refrain of "college readiness" or some permutation of the phrase. If college is first prize, and being an electrician is silver medal at best, it is no wonder that in our system skilled labor is somewhat stigmatized.

Someone ought to tell those kids that the average skilled electrician or plumber makes more than a mid-career teacher...and doesn't have to pay back student loans for undergraduate and graduate degrees which dumped them into a market where such degrees are a dime a dozen. 

As we seek to reform public schools, how about focusing on skills that will get kids jobs instead of focusing so much on tests?


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I had always wanted to learn about this topic ... I think it's great the way you expose .. great work and continuing on with this great blog

The issue is people want certain credentials that even the qualified workers don't have.

That's silly, there are plenty of qualified employees. The issue is people want certain credentials that even the qualified workers don't have.

Interestingly as well a recent jobs report from the federal government revealed that the number of job postings increased at a higher rate than the number of new hires. In other words, the jobs are there but the qualified employees are not.

I agree, Mark; we need skilled workers just as much as we need office workers. My only qualm against steering students toward the trades is the flexibility that earning a college degree offers. With a college degree you can design a house, build a house or clean a house. Without a college degree you can only do two of those. And if you injure yourself in the process, you can't do either.

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