I believe that the manufacturing sector can provide many jobs for Americans who are currently out of work. However, a problem with this idea is that the lion’s share of Americans do not receive the type of training necessary to work in a modern manufacturing firm. This stems from the fact that over the last 30 years, the American educational system’s working theory has been that all young adults graduating from High School should be prepared to enter a university and receive a four-year baccalaureate degree. However, fewer than 30% of all Americans ever receive a BA. For the greater than two-thirds of Americans who will not graduate with a degree from a university, the educational system has not done a good job preparing them for meaningful employment; today we have the highest unemployment rates for teens and young adults since the Great Depression.
In an effort to address this issue, last year the Harvard Graduate School of Education released a fascinating report titled Pathways to Prosperity: Meeting the Challenge of Preparing Young Americans for the 21st Century. The report attempts to explain the reasons behind the dreadful employment rates for America’s young adults and sets forth proposed changes to our educational system to address the future employment needs for overwhelming majority of America’s current students. The authors of the report contend our nation’s program for education and youth development has been too narrowly focused on an academic, classroom-based approach. The authors fault our educational system for advocating only one solution for success in this country; attending and graduating from university. The authors of the report note that while “the United States is expected to create 47 million jobs in the 10-year period ending in 2018, only a third of these jobs will require a bachelor’s or higher degree. Almost as many jobs – some 30 percent – will only require an associate’s degree or a post-secondary occupational credential.” Given these facts, the authors of the report suggest that our educational system should increase the options available to young Americans to prepare them for a productive work life.
In order to do this, the authors of the report advocate an increased focus on apprenticeship programs and community colleges as viable routes to well-paying jobs. The authors issue a call to American firms to help in providing alternative career paths for young Americans, by allowing students to engage in work-based learning and actual jobs related to their programs of study. Finally, the authors of the report argue that this nation needs to “develop a new social compact between society and our young people. The compact’s central goal would be that by the time they reach their mid-20s, every young adult will be equipped with the education and experience he or she needs to lead a successful life as an adult.”
Robert Schwartz, academic dean and professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, who led the Pathways to Prosperity Project, would be a very interesting guy to meet. Despite being a dean at perhaps the most prestigious university in this country, he has come to question the “college for all” movement. Professor Schwartz notes that America is the “only developed nation that depends so exclusively on its higher education system as the sole institutional vehicle to help young people transition from secondary school to careers, and from adolescence to adulthood. Professor Schwartz goes on to say “Unless we are willing to provide more flexibility and choice in the last two years of high school, and more opportunities for students to pursue program options that link work and learning, we will continue to lose far too many young people along the path to graduation.”
Americans who will be working in the manufacturing sector in the next few decades will need to have first class post-secondary education in the form of AA degrees, technical certificates and apprenticeship programs. But what they probably don’t need to do attend university for four years. Many of the manufacturers I have spoken with tell me that the people who apply for the jobs they have to offer are unsuited for the positions because they have not had the proper technical training either in or after high school. The suggestions set forth in the Pathways to Prosperity report would likely address this training issue, allowing members of our extended American family to get the training they need to qualify for well-paying manufacturing jobs in the coming years. I recommend that you click on the link to the report and read it cover to cover. Thanks.