Are we doing our young people a disservice?

A recent article in Financial Times by Hal Weitzman in Chicago and Robin Harding titled “Skills gap hobbles US employers”  reinforces what I have been saying for years.  The article quoted Ben Bernanke, chairman of the US Federal Reserve, who told an audience in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, in August that the US had to “foster the development of a skilled workforce” if it was to enjoy good longer-term prospects. The US education system “despite considerable strengths, poorly serves a substantial portion of our population,” he said.  US manufacturers have 600,000 unfilled positions because of a lack of qualified skilled workers.

We need to stop promoting a college education as the only path to a good paying job.  How many unemployed college graduates are there? We need to recognize that some young people have skills and abilities which they could put to use in manufacturing or construction jobs.  The FT article quotes one business owner who has been unable to fill 3 positions for sheet-metal set-up operators.  These jobs pay $80,000 and include health and pension benefits.

I have served on the board of advisers for our local school district’s vocational-technical education program.  That program is suffering because parents and guidance counselors discourage kids from taking those classes. Many students are unaware that the programs even exist.

I have been in the construction industry all of my life.  I started as a carpenter’s helper the summer between my sophmore and junior years in high school.  I loved building things.  My favorite toys as a kid were building blocks, Lincoln Logs, and a toy by Kenner called the Girder and Panel Building Set.  My counselor encouraged me to attend a liberal arts college, but I knew what I wanted to do when I finished school.

Those robots we’ve all seen on TV commercials assembling our cars and trucks are operated and maintained by skilled workers.  Our homes, our schools, our hospitals,our churches, the buildings where we work and shop are all built by skilled-workers.  The demand for skilled workers is always going to exist.  The BIG question is how will we meet the demand.

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