America’s biggest missed opportunity?

Unemployment is the most pressing problem facing our nation.

The official unemployment rate is 8.3%, but many think the “real” unemployment rate is actually much higher.

So I was shocked to learn that manufacturers in Indiana, in New York, in California and in many other states can’t find the people they need to hire to ramp up production of their goods.  While we have added nearly 500,000 manufacturing jobs over the last two years, a study published last year by Deloitte estimated that approximately 600,000 well-paying manufacturing jobs are going wanting in our country simply because of a lack of workers with the requisite skills to fill the positions.  But I am happy to report, help is on the way.

Given the high average wages of jobs in the manufacturing sector ($29.75 an hour in 2010), lots of Americans are getting the training necessary to fill the 600,000 manufacturing openings in this country.  A recent article in CNN chronicled the huge number of Americans flooding into trade schools and community colleges that offer certificate programs designed to train our next generation of manufacturing workers.  Programs like those offered by Naugatuck Valley Community College’s new Advanced Manufacturing Technology Center.  Naugatuck Valley offers a manufacturing certificate program.

CNN also did a nice piece on members of our extended American family who have joined the storied manufacturing sector.  Students training for positions in the manufacturing sector run the gamut from our heroes returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, older workers transitioning from other industries and young pups just graduating from college.

I talked to three young guys on the bus yesterday about manufacturing jobs.  It was clear that they had never considered preparing for a job in the manufacturing sector.  But they got interested as we discussed the benefits of attending a community college for a couple of years and being fairly sure of getting a job as soon as they graduate.  They got really interested when I told them that new manufacturing workers can expect a starting salary of around $40,000 a year, with the potential to jump to $55,000 to $65,000 in less than two years.  But they were really floored when I told them that if they did well in their new endeavor, they could make more than $100,000 annually after ten years on the job.

Given the demand for workers and the decent money you can make, it is difficult to understand why more young people are not getting into manufacturing.  But I have a couple of theories.

Theory 1: The endless drumbeat that every young person in America should go get a four-year degree from a university.

This idea is a relatively new concept, but it is now firmly established in the national psyche.  However, it is a pipe dream, and an expensive pipe dream at that.  There have always been, and will always be, a large number of jobs in this economy that don’t require a BA from a university.  Rather than try to squeeze all young people into a “one-size fits all” university track, we should be helping young people train for careers that fit their goals and circumstances.

Theory 2:  Americans who don’t get a BA never make any money.  As set forth above, this is a canard.  Americans who graduate from high school and then get some post secondary education in the form of a certificate relating to manufacturing jobs can do very well thank you in terms of making a living.

Theory 3:  A BA is necessary in order to receive a well-rounded education.  One of my favorite lines about higher education is from the bar scene in Goodwill Hunting.  Matt Damon tells a stroppy Harvard grad student that someday he will come to understand that he “dropped a $150,000 on an education you could have got for $1.50 in late charges at the public library.”  I couldn’t agree more.  I took lit classes, psych classes and political science classes in college, and in most of the classes it was just me, the professor, and 150 other people.  Not a lot of one-on-one guidance on the significance of the Iliad was offered.  Later I read it on my own, with the aid of a guide to reading it I got at the library, and I got a lot more out of it than I ever did in Lit class.  You simply don’t have to get a BA to understand and appreciate the finer things (Literature, music, philosophy, Monty Python, English Football) in life.

I hate to brag, but my home town of Seattle actually leads the nation in the creation of manufacturing jobs.  From the big boy in town, Boeing, to a slew of great smaller manufacturers (Tom Bihn and McKinnon Furniture to name a few), Seattle is a town that makes things.  And our community colleges are helping lots of people train for a career in the manufacturing sector.  You can’t know how happy that makes me.  Okay, maybe you can.


About John Briggs

I live in Seattle and love telling stories about Americans, the places where they work and the things that they make. I have just published a book, Simply American, encouraging Americans to purchase American made products; the book can be ordered at
This entry was posted in Education, Made in America, made in usa, Seattle and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

101 Responses to America’s biggest missed opportunity?

  1. gpicone says:

    Great blog. Can you tell me what the manufacturing jobs are manufacturing?

    • tapirking says:

      Thanks for your kind words. American firms are manufacturing everything you might want to buy, aside from cell phones and electronics. Cars, appliances, housewares, shoes, clothing, American workers make it all. I would encourage you to enter any good you might need to buy in the search box at the top of my blog page and you will be directed to posts I have written in the past year about loads of American firms producting all sorts of products.

      All the best,

      John Briggs

  2. You have hit the nail on the head with this article, not everybody needs a 4 year degree from college nor a liberal arts degree. Face it, many people are not destined for college, and the many who do go to college, do not use their degree at all, but it did get them in the door for an initial job. We have forgotten vocational education for far too long. You would think that the private sector would have done this automatically to fill their holes, but no, that has not happened. What needs to happen is a coalition between the Federal government, community colleges or vocational schools – with private industries to create a curriculum that is pertinent to the fields to which the students aspire to. More and more jobs require special training – this is where this co-op would be a boon. -Jack A

  3. free penny press says:

    What an interesting post.. now I know why my parents harped on me getting a trade/skill along with college..I have long said the education system in the USA needs to be revamped to adjust to our changing world. Congrats on being FP!!

  4. pacdoc22 says:

    Really enjoyed it, these days it is just good to have a job. I recently graduated from a interior design degree, could not find any related job,all the bug firm in Auckland requires at least 2years working experiment. How would I get that…
    I am now working for freedom furniture in Auckland and it got nothing to do with creativity, just sales. Well, it pay bills.. It is about surviving these day.

  5. This is such a smart, wise post. I write on business as a journalist and have a piece coming up soon in the NYT you might enjoy reading that questions our assumptions about the value of college.

  6. I was actually watching the movie Good Will Hunting last night, and I recall thinking (even before reading you post), how true that line is. Today, many young people feel they have to go to university and get a BA. Some even feel that a BA isn’t enough, and that they have to continue on to get a MA or PhD! Sadly, getting a masters of PhD, does not necessarily guarantee you a job, or even a well-paying one at the end of it, yet many people still take that path…. University has become the equivalent of highschool, but it shouldn’t be. Some people are better suited for college (where they teach trades and hands on skills) and these people should go there after highschool. In fact, if you ask me unless you become a doctor, lawyer, scientist or professor, your job prospects are actually better attending a skilled trade in college than getting a degree in university (and I feel this way even though I am a university graduate)!

    Great post and congrats on being FP!

  7. Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed! Interesting article. Speaking from my own experience as someone who received a BA eight years ago, I never even considered training for a manufacturing job. All I’ve heard in the news since I was in high school was how American manufacturing jobs were being sent overseas. Why train for a job if you are expecting it to disappear in a few years? It seems like the trend is starting to reverse and I hope it continues.

    • tapirking says:

      Amy: I just got back from touring four firms in the Midwest and they are all prospering I am happy to report. The reshoring phenomenon you reference is a great development and if you are interested I have three or four posts on it. Just enter reshoring in the search function on my blog.

      All the best,


  8. jimceastman says:

    This blog is very interesting and insightful! You’ve got a great post!
    Thank you for sharing anyway, and congratulations for getting on Freshly Pressed! I enjoyed reading it, keep it coming!

  9. Grace Howard says:

    I find your post (and the rest of your blog) incredibly interesting. I am currently taking a course on Business, Government, and Society in I was assigned to find a blog that relates to topics that we have discussed and yours caught my eye. We have spent a significant amount of time reading about and analyzing the manufacturing conditions at large manufacturing plants in countries such as China. Your blog provides perfect means for comparison between the undesirable manufacturing jobs that we have discussed and the appealing manufacturing jobs in the United States!

    • tapirking says:


      Thanks for your kind comment about my blog. If you go to my blog roll on the side of my blog, I have two books about China that I recommend highly. The first is Playing-Our-Game: Why Chinas Rise Doesn’t Threaten the West. I actually think the rise of China does threaten the west, but the author’s description of the rise of China’s manufacturing sector is the best I have read. Not surprising considering the author Edward S. Steinfeld is Associate Professor of Political Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Director of the MIT-China Program and the book is published by Oxford University Press. The second book to read is The Elephant and the Dragon: The Rise of India and China and What It Means for All of Us. The title is kinda lame, but it is a really good read. Good luck with your studies!

      All the best,


  10. wow. i’m in shock at that fact about manufacturers not being able to find employers. the world is so freakin backwards sometimes!!!!

  11. I’ve been thinking about this lately, also. I came from a blue collar family that stressed work over education, thus I didn’t attend college. I’ve done all right financially but always thought I would have been a more well-rounded person had I gotten a degree. But in what? Too many things interest me to focus on just one. I can hold my own in conversation, balance my checkbook, and appreciate a good martini or a beer, so how much more well-rounded do I need to be? And we just have got to get past the money yardstick; life satisfaction cannot be measured in dollars alone.

  12. This is spot on! If I could go back in time, I would happily exchange my B.Sc. for a trade!

  13. sanpasi says:

    Reblogged this on Santosh Pasi.

  14. Allison Plaisance says:

    I understand your support for manufacturing. I very much agree that it’s an important route to consider and that college isn’t for everyone. But on that note, how do you feel about higher education? Isn’t it important, too, for our country to develop a well-educated workforce so that we may compete with other nations in the future? In areas like science and engineering especially, I get the sense that we are falling behind on a global scale.

    • tapirking says:

      Allison: Thanks for your comment. I do believe we need to redouble our efforts to be leaders in science and engineering. In fact, many manufacturing jobs these days require people to have a strong understanding of math and science. But for many people, they don’t need to spend four years in college and go $60,000 in debt to get the skills they need to earn a middle class wage in manufacturing.

      All the best,


  15. Great post! I totally agree. I am finishing my bachelor’s degree at the age of 41 but it was just something to be done more so for myself. Many of the kids with whom I attend school have the belief that once they complete their degree jobs will magically fall into their laps. Simply not the case. I urge those around me to try to become well-rounded as individuals and glean from every experience around them. Thank you for your insight!

  16. segmation says:

    Hi John,
    I hope the manufacturing jobs from Seattle makes it way back to California. It would help our economy as well as be Made in America!

  17. lsurrett2 says:

    Wonderful blog. As a former teacher in a CTE school, I ❤ your sentiments. Please see for a wonderful letter from Mike Rowe to Gov. Romney on the need for these jobs.

  18. Mei says:

    Wonderful post. I was just thinking the other day, how amazing it is how much can be learned online nowadays. Even top colleges like MIT offer engineering courses online for free! Unfortunately none of this free learning comes with that pretty little diploma or certificate that employers seem to value so much. But you are right…manufacturing jobs will always be around.

  19. Pingback: Is Manufacturing in America at Odds with Higher Education? « Business, Society, and Government 4

  20. Matt_S_Law says:

    Amen on your one-size-fits-all concept. I think that failed strategy all the way down to grade school is responsible for a lot of the decline in our country. I’ve been telling any young person that will listen that there is virtually no correlation between your education and your future income. Congratulations on the FP, also!

  21. So true! Thanks for sharing!

  22. Skatha says:

    Your words are well written, John. I agree with you completely.

    My parents were the ones who had insisted that I attend college. Years later, I made a friend who was doing a helluva lot better than I was in the jobs sector and she didn’t attend college at all. She was an extremely intelligent young woman who just didn’t feel the need for college. At the same time, I was sitting at home most of the time, staring at the worthless piece of paper my mother had so proudly hung upon the wall declaring my possession of a BA degree. I knew then that something had gone wrong.

    I will have to say that just after graduation, when I was considering an MA in Creative Writing, several people managed to convince me that what I would learn spending thousands on classroom situations I could learn for free by joining writing groups and occasionally attending writing forums and conferences. I will be grateful to them forever for saving me so much money!!!

    Roughly 10 years ago, I spent a lot of time in the career chatroom on Yahoo!, chatting to kids who were about to graduate high school. Their mantra was always “what should I study to make the most money”? They were never interested in a response of “Do what you love” or anything that might require hard work. So I can agree with Mike Rowe (thanks to lsurrett2 for providing that link!!) when he says we need to change America’s thinking about hard work.

    No one wants to work hard for anything anymore and that’s the problem. Manufacturing and other “blue collar” jobs pay good money – all you have to do is look at your bill for car repair or plumbing repair to know this. How often do we jokingly say, “Man I’m in the wrong business!” when we see the hourly rate for any number of jobs we have done and pay for out of our own pockets?

    As someone who has attended college, I would also like to put forth an argument for changes there as well. I think we need to cut out all of the frivolous classes required for any degree. I think if people attending college took classes which just focused on their area of study (which for me would’ve been nothing but literature classes as I have a BA in English) it would not only bring down the cost of a college education, but also shorten the time spent in the classroom and get them out into the workforce faster. This is how it is done in the UK and I don’t think it’s a bad thing. If we need to strengthen students’ core skills (math, reading, writing, etc.) then raise the bar in high school and leave it all behind when they move onto college. After all, I doubt trade schools teach anything but the trade so why shouldn’t a college be different?

    • tapirking says:

      Skatha: Thanks for your comment. I visited four factories in the midwest last week, and I can say that those people were working very hard. But they seemed to be really engaged with what they were doing: actually making a useful product. But don’t kid yourself, they work in order to get paid so they can put food on the table, gas in the car and provide support for their family. I really have to thank Isurrett2 for providing that link as well. I need to send an email to Mike Rowe to thank him for his efforts.

      All the best,


  23. Pingback: America’s manufacturing « Business, Society, and Government 4

  24. Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed and thank you for your insightful post.

    I have been an electrician for over 44 years, after flunking out of college, and it was the best worst thing that could have happened to me. Not everyone is cut out to become an astronaut, but that doesn’t spell the end of the world for them.

    The satisfaction of doing good, humble work for decent pay is a reward in itself. This leaves time to be a “life-long learner” and put to use the hours away from work.

    • tapirking says:

      Allan: Thank you for your kind words about my post. Over the last few days, I have met workers at Hart Schaffner Marx and Allen Edmonds shoes who show up to work every day, are a part of a family making the highest quality goods and have the satisfaction of knowing that their jobs have allowed them to provide for their families. I just think that we all can live useful lives of service to others regardless of whether we are a manufacturing worker, a police officer, an electrician, a welder or a nurse. You absolutely hit the nail on the head when you said that “the satisfaction of doing good, humble work for decent pay is a reward in itself.” I, like you, have always tried to make my hours away from work as productive and useful as possible. Thanks for you comment.

      All the best,


    • Skatha says:

      I’d just like to say, Allan, that without folks like you providing electricity and keeping it working properly, those astronauts and others wouldn’t be able to do their jobs. After all, we ALL need electricity to see to do our work. 🙂

  25. The UK has similar problems in that teenagers are wondering how they’re going to pay for higher education while graduates are wondering why they can’t get the kind of job their qualifications entitle them to. In the meantime you can’t find a good plumber or carpenter at reasonable rates because they are in such demand. In fact it has become common for graduates to retrain in these skills! A neighbour told me she bought a car for her grandson to give him when he managed to secure a place at university, something he was unlikely to do because he simply wasn’t suited to it. In the end he barely scraped through but got the car anyway. I realise some people still think that higher education represents a step up the social scale but it never guarantees a bigger salary.

  26. I have a fourth reason why many people are not training for these types of jobs–functional illiteracy. In 2001, an American Management Association Survey on Workplace Testing found that 34.1% of applicants tested lacked the basic skills necessary to learn/perform the job, and 84.6% of companies did not hire skill-deficient applicants.

    There are five levels of literacy.

    23% of adults are in level one and are considered functionally illiterate.
    27% are in Level 2
    32% in Level 3
    17% in Level 4
    3% in Level 5 (most of these people have college degrees)

    These manufacturing jobs are not the old style assembly line jobs. Today, job applicants usually have to be literate and teachable due to computers and robots on the assembly line.

    So, I understand some are returning to school to boost literacy levels and learn how to write better before they start at a vocational school that will teach them the skills for this high paying but high skilled jobs.

  27. davewakefield says:

    Great topic and well written. Australia is facing a similar problem.

  28. Amen! Well said, and congratulations on getting “Freshly Pressed.” This fixation with higher education has actually created a void in blue collar jobs, many going to those overseas, or importing workers (both legally and illegally) from other countries. Not every kid is college material, or wants to work behind a desk. Many excel working with their hands, and since the mid-1900s, we’ve seen a deterioration of trade schools. We need the 2012 equivalent to train our workers for our new high-tech manufacturing facilities. And there’s nothing wrong with making an good, honest living putting up drywall or landscaping. Many of those workers will, someday, own their own small business.

    • tapirking says:

      Vincent: Thanks for your kuddos. I am going to start a research effort to learn about all the manufacturing-technical college efforts that are already in place and do a post on it.

      All the best,


  29. I DID NOT KNOW THIS. But it seems typical of our educational system (I’m a former teacher) that the need for well-trained workers has come full circle and the idiots controlling the advisement of new teachers and career management are not able—or willing–to adapt and fill the need. Too busy with their social science experimentation and manipulation of their lab rats (our children). I’ve been writing over the years, a series on the changing character of a manufacturing facility, although it is not grouped as such., or on the web: Goggle OUR POETRY CORNER.

  30. Dan G says:

    This country doesn’t make anything any longer. The majority of the manufacturing is in China. I am not complaining that the Flatscreen TV I bought 7 years ago is now $299.00 but is has come with a price to our workers. We need to (somehow) bring back manufacturing to the United States


  31. Lena says:

    So true, so, so true. People get pissed at me when I say not everyone can or should go to college, and this is a brilliant article that explains why.

  32. lic87 says:

    This is also happening in Italy. In the South, we have a over education. And young people get 2 or 3 degrees but they still remain out of the job market, unless they go away. Manifacturing, that should and would be the main economical sector in the southern regions in Italy, is misregardeb by young people, as it is a “not cool” or “not clever” job to do.

  33. whenquiet says:

    simplyamericandotnet, EXCELLENT blog entry!! B.A./English and M.A./Performing Arts Dance graduate, fast forward 33 years later with a blitz look on the numerous jobs I have held unrelated to my degrees, I too recall feeling like a number in a few university classes filled to the brim with sleepy students and an even sleepier professor. While living abroad, I can attest to swallowing my pride, playing down my higher education degrees (European employer tendency to label degreed folk overqualified), and taking a job at McDonald’s in Germany in order to contribute to my family income. However, I have witnessed young adults of 2012, and I am talking young adults of France, Germany, and Switzerland sit at home depenidng on their parents and waiting for the dream job(profession for which they studied) to open up. Or they succumb to the treacheries of fast money(catch my drift?). Irregardless to the fact that they could simultaneously earn their keep at a legitimate temporary job, they sometimes succumb to the treacherous activities of making fast money(catch my drift?) My philosphy to help the youth of today is simply to ” walk the walk”. I can’t move like I did in my 20’s, but I can teach a student how to phrase a sentence in English, how to use the diaphragm while singing, and how to make a sandwich in order to put bread on my table. Thank you for your post!

  34. You have struck a home run here. In my humble opinion at least.
    College was never an option for me. At 21 years of age I had a home cleaning business. At 29 I turned a passionate hobby into a career and purchased a boarding kennel business that took me to an income of almost 90k in less than one year( that was 1985 ). I LOVED IT. Three years later I opened a retail pet supply store (80k – my own cash – never a loan). There in became the only time I wished I had had a “proper” education. Won’t bore with the gory details but lets just say everything fell apart faster than I could stop the freight train of disaster that headed straight for me. ( thank you “big box stores” ) I am at the 9 year mark of that all behind me now and back to working long hours for little pay and barely getting by. BUT I do believe that private enterprise is what will keep America afloat. The innovative American people who dare, who take risks, who work hard to keep it IN America. Also, I believe we need to keep the Government out of it. They have a wonderful knack for ruining things. America will come back not because of Government but in spite of Government. It’s the American people that will turn this country back to it’s healthy and glorious self. Making product here, buying American and supporting our own country is what will save us. Americans supporting America – what a concept huh?

  35. Reblogged this on No More Politics and commented:
    Insightful post, never though about manufacturing simply thought everything was outsourced.

  36. miashaw says:

    As a student at UC Berkeley, I’m forced to question the importance of a traditional college education in modern society… having professors who teach 500 or so students per lecture is far from being conducive to our education. And I see many people here — even here, at the top public university — who are just wasting their time when they could be out doing things they actually cared about instead of trying to get their Bachelor’s because society told them to.
    We’re wasting resources on people who don’t really care.

    The 4-year university route is being questioned fairly often now. This was an interesting read, as it offered viable alternatives to that path.

  37. Even though I live a few miles away from this place you call America (I’m British), I couldn’t agree more with what you said.

    Recently, I finished my course and applied to university. I always thought that was the way I had to go, you know, the way you got a successful job doing something you love. Luckily for me, I missed out by a small margin on getting in, and instead volunteered for two months being subsequently offered a full time job.

    My college has asked me to go and speak about not going to university and the success you can still have – I couldn’t have said “YES!” faster. I wish everyone who was in my position could read this post.

    Just because the statistics are from America; doesn’t mean it can’t apply elsewhere.

    Great post.

  38. You are spot on! I see an incredible amount manufacturing jobs going oversees, – Especially in my line of Business of Design and construction. What happened to Made in America? And oh did I love your comment about the 4 year degree and the lack of manufacturing opportunities. There is still a chance to ” turn this boat” around. – And boy do I hope people start realizing what potentials they really have in their own back yards. Love your post!

  39. w6bky says:

    Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed.

    Your “America’s biggest missed opportunity?” blog entry is spot-on and well said.

  40. Cafe says:

    Excellent post! And I really hear what you’re saying about moving away from trying to squeeze everyone into a “one-size-fits-all” university track. Not everyone is made for university life and people shouldn’t be made to feel like they can’t be successful just because of that; instead, they should be given other options that speak to their strengths and talents.

  41. deliveryfolktales says:

    I am currently attending college and working for a delivery service and believe me it isn’t easy nowadays! I have a feeling America is heading in the wrong direction but I truly hope I’m wrong.
    If you wanna check out my delivery adventures just click on my name 🙂 hope you enjoy! All the best, matt

  42. GP says:

    Reblogged this on misentopop.

  43. nordinni86 says:

    Great blog. Though I’m not an American (I’m Malaysian), America has always been close to heart as I graduated there. I don’t think this just stays true with America. All the countries that are outsourcing its manufacturing and labor jobs or even services out of the country has the likelihood of what you described above. Also, with the community being taught to not appreciate low class jobs such cleaning, hard labor, the country is bound to import foreigners to get the meagre jobs done. The society is then thought that once you are sent to school, even more so after graduating, it is frowned upon if the graduate settles down with a job not matched up to the level of education he/she receives. If this is engrained in the society, not only the country has to overcome economic and political hurdles but also societal set standards which is hard to overcome.

  44. Very insightful about manufacturing sector.

  45. billlattpa says:

    I agree with you 100% about the unnecesssary push for traditional 4 year college degrees. There are many very bright young people who would still rather work in manufacturing/construction, ect. And that are many students in 4 year colleges who may not be suited for it. Somehow the prevailing attitude in this country shifted to considering manufacturing and construction work as jobs meant for second class citizens.
    I started on the tradtional route and went to college for two years and managed to do quite well. I worked at a production facility while I went to school. I always enjoyed working physically, operating machinery, and working with my hands, so rather than sticking with the “traditional” degree program I took a 66 credit course in electrical systems maintenance and installation. I had the course finished in 18 months. For the past seven years I’ve made a very good living and my only regret is that I didn’t do it sooner. America needs smart, hard working people in all fields, not just pencil pushing computer programmers.(not that I have anything against that)

  46. FeeFee says:

    This might be taking a different approach to things, but I am a senior in an EXPENSIVE 4 year institution and i find myself wondering if 4 years spent here was even worth it. With the increasing tuition of 4 year universities, a lot more people are opting to go to community college and get more technical jobs. A part form community colleges, online colleges are starting to be flooded with students who just don’t think paying an arm and a leg for 4 years in college is worth it. I really think expensive private 4 year institutions will be replaced by more community colleges, technical and online schools (this is coming from someone who currently attends a private university). I also wonder if my degree will truly be more valuable than say someone who did not go to a 4 year college, but has a post high school degree?

  47. Pingback: The End of EXPENSIVE Private Institutions « Business, Government and Society fiVe

  48. charlesberry101152 says:

    I could not agree more. I earned AS degree in Applied Science and it did secured me a higher paying job at the college I worked for 25 years. It was the best experience I had, even my instructors informed me that industry needed people who could work with their hands, so a four year degree was not needed.

  49. ASJ says:

    Hi there! I really enjoyed your post and agree that our country is getting a little too carried away with this “drumbeat” where all high school graduates are expected to move on to a four year college. I am a current senior at a liberal arts college and never thought twice in high school about whether or not a four year education was the next step for me. Because I admittedly have never considered this alternative path, I was wondering how you suggest that this “B.A. or the Highway” mentality could be broken? How does someone know that trade school would be a good option for them? Is there enough information about potential future careers given to high school students so that they don’t see a need to join the herd of people going to a four year university?

  50. You’re right. Simply pointing to a four-year university doesn’t amount to success without skills to carry you where you want to go. Trade schools help many students realize their dreams in a much more practical way than any over-priced university. But, I knew this when I opted for college and worked my way through it. I think we put too much emphasis on prestige as opposed to happiness with what we’ve got. Sometimes what we’ve got makes more sense. I still want my kids to reach for the university. But, if offered a choice, I’d take the hard, appreciative worker over a snob in a split second. Great, honest story–Congratulations!

  51. So true. Manufacturing is where a lot of the job growth in the midwest is at right now.

  52. Some young people, as well as older people, don’t consider manufacturing jobs because they don’t suit their temperament. Wouldn’t it be better if we gave young people the opportunity to discuss jobs and even visit various workplaces? Then they can decide if they’d be a doctor who hates listening to patients, or a sensitive-spirited sales professional without clients, or an assembly line worker who would long achingly for open air and personal creativity in their workplace.

    I think it’s best when any person has the job that suits them. I’m for opportunities period, whether those opportunities involve trade schools or college degrees.

    • tapirking says:

      Thanks for your comment. I think your idea is very sound. This last week I visited four manufacturing firms in the mid-west and it was an eye opener for me to see how things we use everyday (socks, shoes, suits and appliances) are made. The nice thing about a manufacturing job is you can make good money working 40 hours a week and then have the rest of your life to pursue other things.

      All the best,


  53. landstand3r says:

    Great blog, although I might disagree with you that unemployment is the biggest problem in America. It’s certainly the biggest and most immediate problem, but I think our education system is at least as big a problem. We have the biggest economy, most powerful military, pioneer technology, but our education system is rated 20-somethingth globally. That, of course could tie in with a couple of your theories, especially the first one.

    • tapirking says:

      Thanks for your comment Mike. It seems that we run our educational system for the 30% of kids who go to college. I just don’t think it is realistic to think that all high school graduates will complete a four year degree in college. That is why I think we should do everything we can to provide a range of post-secondary educational opportunities for our kids.

      All the best,


    • “but our education system is rated 20-somethingth globally.”

      I’m not surprised that you believe this misinformation, because we hear this fiction so often from the media and politicians. However, the truth is that, academically, we graduate more students that are functionally literate than almost every nation on the Earth including most of Europe.

      What the critics of public education in the US tell us is the total numbers that graduate from high school in the top ten countries but they NEVER tell us what it was they graduated in. In all of these other countries a student may graduate from high school with a vocational high school degree. Then there is an academic track that also leads to a high school degree.

      To prove this, all one has to do is dig deep enough, which I have done, to compare educational systems between countries. No other nation on the planet graduates as many students from high school following an academic track as the US does. But the US public schools do not offer a vocational track that leads to high school graduation and this is something the critics of US public education will NEVER tell you.
      However, I agree with John. The US education system only focuses on educating students as if they are all going to college but more than two-thirds do not earn college degrees.

      What is missing in our secondary public high schools are vocational tracks that lead to a high school degree. Every country in Europe and many countries in the rest of the world offer choices: academic for those that are college bound and vocational training.
      The biggest lie of all is that public education in the US is broken because of the teachers and the teacher unions. After we look behind these lies, we discover from many facts that America’s teachers are doing a GREAT JOB with what Washington DC and every state capital tells them they have to teach.

      The only thing that is wrong with America’s public education system is that politics NEED to be removed and the teachers MUST be allowed to run the system, because teachers know what is best for the students but they are MOSTLY ignored by parents, to school board, the elected officials at the state and federal level all the way to the White House.

      In addition, I doubt that many will believe me even after you see some of the evidence:

      91.4% of Asian Pacific Islanders graduate from US high schools.
      81% of Whites
      64.2% of American Indian/Alaska Native
      63.5% of Hispanic
      61.5% of Blacks

      Often, teachers will have students from each of these racial groups in their classes. If Asian-American and White students do so well from the same teachers, why can’t the American Indian, Hispanic and Black students perform the same way?

      In fact, when we compare the US to the top ten nations that graduate the most students from high schools and make two lists: one academic and one vocational, we discover that the US even beats Japan. Nine of these countries have vocational tracks that lead to high school graduation.

      In the United States, the high schools only offer the academic track and that is because of Washington D.C. and the last four US Presidents.

      1. United States = 75.5% graduate from high school on an academic track (AND, many students that do not graduate from high school on time go on to earn a high school degree — by age 24, 89.9% of Americans have gone on to earn a high school degree or a GED)
      2. Japan = 72% graduate on an academic track—(23% graduate from high school with vocational degrees)
      3. Ireland = 70% (62% also complete a vocational program so there is some overlap)
      4. South Korea = 66% (23% complete a high school vocational program)
      5. Norway = 60% (38% completed a high school vocational program)
      6. Denmark = 55% (47% completed a high school vocational program)
      7. Finland = 48% (48% completed a high school vocational program)
      8. Germany = 39% (45% completed a high school vocational program)
      9. Italy = 35% (59% complete a high school vocational program)
      10. Switzerland = 30% (71% completed a high school vocational program)

      As for literacy:
      To be fair, the US should only be compared to similar English speaking countries with majority populations that are White and with similar cultures such as Ireland, the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. When compared to these countries, the US is ranked NUMBER ONE in literacy. Twenty percent (20%) of the US population is functionally illiterate and eighty percent is considered functionally literate.
      How does this compare to these other countries on that English speaking list? The US is number ONE!

      1. Twenty-two point six (22.6%) to 24% of Irish adults are functionally illiterate
      2. Twenty-one point eight percent (21.8%) of UK adults are functionally illiterate
      3. About forty-two percent (42%) of Canadian adults are functionally illiterate.
      4. About thirty percent (30%) of Australian children that leave the school system are functionally illiterate.
      5. Forty-five percent (45%) of adults in New Zealand are functionally illiterate

      To make public education in the US look bad, critics of the system only compare the US to countries that have different cultural values and speak a different language such as:

      1. Switzerland: 15.9% of adults are functionally illiterate
      2. Norway: 7.9%
      3. Germany: 14.4%
      4. Finland: 10.4% (in Finland most of the student start school at age seven and the parents teach them at home how to read starting as young as age three. By the time most of these children reach age seven, they are already literate. In addition, 99% of the teachers in Finland belong to a strong union and the politicians allow the teachers to run the schools instead of telling them what to do as is done in the United States.)
      5. Denmark: 9.6%

      As you can see, I’ve done my homework. The links to the reliable sources I’ve quoted may be found on one or more of the posts at

      • landstand3r says:

        I am not sure where you got your information from or how it was formed, but America is also has on of the largest populations in the world. With that factored in, countries like S. Korea, Finland, Japan, ect can’t possibly compete with total number of students graduated. I do agree with you, though that we need a larger vocational track that is not stereotyped as for delinquents. My main problem with the education system is that there is no way to get rid of teachers who don’t do their job well. Once a teacher gets tenure, there is little that can be done if they become senile or stop trying.
        I went through a pretty good school system, but I would say at least half my teachers were horrible. In middle school I honestly had maybe one good teacher, one that was a borderline pedophile, and at least five that were losing it with old age. I think that what you say about ‘leaving teaching to teachers’ should work out in theory, but it clearly isn’t.
        I also think we need to take the focus off of standardized testing. There are a number of studies that show how little standardized testing helps or represents a person’s intelligence but nothing has been done to respond to them.
        Our method of teaching just doesn’t work for some reason as well. My experience with school was that the curriculum constantly repeated its self every couple years because when student learn that material, they forget it right after the test. This goes along with standardized testing, with that as the only incentive, there is no longer a reason to remember it.

  54. “I am not sure where you got your information from or how it was formed, but America is also has one of the largest populations in the world.”

    True, The United States has the third largest population in the world. Here are the top ten:

    1. China (1.347 billion people) has 160 million students that start primary school. About 63% finish senior middle school and 45% go on to complete a vocational track.
    2. In India (1.21 billion) only 49% of females participate in secondary schools compared to 59% of males.
    3. The United States has the third largest population in the world at 314.2 million.
    4. In Indonesia, 29% complete general education programs and 17% complete vocational training (237.6 million).
    5. In Brazil with 192.4 million, 65% completed general education programs and 9% complete vocational training.
    6. In Pakistan with 180.5 million, 20% of females and 35% of males participate in the secondary schools.
    7. Nigeria with 166.6 million, 43% of females and 45% of males participate in secondary schools.
    8. In Bangladesh with 152.5 million. 43% of females and 40% of males participate in the secondary schools.
    9. In Russia with 143.1 million, 53% of all school age students complete the general education program and 41% complete a vocational program.
    10. In Japan with 112.3 million, 72% complete the general education program and 23% vocational training.

    Here are links to many of the sources I used:—23-percent-of-males-are-illiterate-112121484.html

    It is not impossible to get rid of incompetent teachers. That is another myth the critics of public education have created and no one has corrected that fiction. How many times have I heard about the so-called rubber room in the NY City School District where burned-out/incompetent teachers are sent to sit out their time? That one example does not represent the United States.

    Why don’t we hear about this from other public school districts in the US?

    There are more than 14,000 school districts. The one in NY is the largest and seems to be the only one that is used as an example. It may be that the contract between the teachers union in New York City (AFT, which is part of the Teamsters. The other major teacher union is The NEA. It is the larger of the two and is not affiliated with any other union as the AFT is) makes it more difficult to fire incompetent teachers.

    Many of not all of the more than 14,000 public school districts in the US negotiate independently with a local branch of one of the two major teacher unions. There is no blanket contract with the two major teacher unions with all school districts in the US. For example, I was a member of REA (local), CTA (state), NEA (national). Each school district has its own branch of the state union that is affiliated with the national.

    In California, for one example, there are more than one thousand school districts each governed by an elected school board and each elected school board negotiates contracts with the local branch of a teacher union. Each school district does not negotiate with NEA or AFT or a state affiliate of NEA or AFT. When both parties agree on the language of a contract, then it goes to the membership of the individual school district for a vote and the teachers that belong to the branch of the state and national union in that district vote yes or no. In the case of Chicago’s recent walk out, no union told the teachers what to do. The teachers voted to strike and the vote in favor was more than 90%.

    There is no such thing as tenure and a guaranteed job that you cannot be fired from, at least in California’s public schools. But after two to five years (depending on the state) there is job protection that makes it more difficult and costly to fire a teacher but I still saw teachers fired in the school district where I taught after he or she already earned that job protection. In addition, there is no evidence that says how many teachers are incompetent—none! No one has ever studied this claim. I spend days searching the Internet and found nothing but opinions and claims.

    Instead, after the probation period, teachers cannot be fired without cause and cause must be proven with evidence.

    For example: When I asked our daughter how many incompetent teachers she had K to 12 (after she graduated from a public high school with a 4.65 GPA and was accepted to Stanford where she is now starting her third year), she stopped to think and then said “two”. From K to 12, she had at least 40 teachers–maybe as many as 50. If we go with the number 40, that means 5% of her teachers were incompetent, but that did not stop her from graduating from high school with honors and being accepted to Stanford.

    Using the myth that public education in the US is riddled with incompetent teachers is another excuse incompetent parents use to put the blame on teachers for students that do not cooperate, read or study. A better question might be to ask, “What is the political agenda of the critics of public education that they have worked so hard for years to spread this myth that the problems in the public schools are caused by incompetent teachers that cannot be fired?”

    In another example, if a teacher refused to follow directions from an administrator, that VP or principal may start a termination process. I know of one teacher from the high school where I taught that was fired for that reason. She had at last twenty years in the classroom when she refused to use the approved textbook and teach the curriculum as the state mandated so they fired her and the teacher union did not defend her. Off she went. And students that were in her class helped by gathering evidence for the school district. In fact, it was about fifty of her students that signed a petition that led to her dismissal.

    Every year I taught, I was evaluated and had to meet with an administrator to go over the evaluation. I never had a poor evaluation, but I knew veteran teachers that did earn poor evaluations, and then according to the contract or law, they were given training and more observation to correct the problem before they could be fired. One of these veteran teachers was teamed up with me and a few other competent teachers for the school year before she was fired as one last chance to learn better methods of classroom control and how to teach more affectively. She had to take night classes that were offered for teachers too.

    Then there are the teachers that were competent for years and then burned out and stopped functioning but hung on to the job out of fear of where the money will come from to pay the bills and eat if they quit. Some leave but others stay. Teaching in the United State, the UK, and Canada (and maybe Ireland, Australia and New Zealand) is a very stressful job and it does lead to burn out. Teachers must deal with some dangerous and difficult to control students. A study in Texas revealed that about a quarter to a third of teachers end up with PTSD symptoms similar to combat veterans. I’ve written about this too and provided links to the source that mentioned the study.

  55. Standardized testing as mandated by the president and the US is what has created this education enviornment you mention in the following quote:

    “Our method of teaching just doesn’t work for some reason as well. My experience with school was that the curriculum constantly repeated its self every couple years because when student learn that material, they forget it right after the test. This goes along with standardized testing, with that as the only incentive, there is no longer a reason to remember it.”

    But there is more than standardized testing that causes so many students to forget what he or she was taught. Diet and lifestyle are also responsible. For example, there is plenty of evidence from many studies that watching too much TV and eating or drinking too much sugar or not getting enough sleep plays havoc with a child’s long term memory, mood, and even the development of the brain to its full potential.

    In fact, the average child in America watches about three hours of TV daily and studies show that this stops the development of a child’s imagination that is needed to develop strong problem solving and critical thinking skills. I knew of these studies when our daughter was still in grade school so in our house, the TV was turned off Monday – Friday and we only watched TV as a family for about two hours on the weekend. Instead, for fun, our daughter was allowed to read books and studies show that reading books develops the imagination.

    After her second year at Stanford, she worked this summer in a paid internship in a biomedical company that is developing medications and hormone based pain killers, and she was hired part time to work ten hours a week on weekends during her third year at Stanford. Maybe all those hours when she was a child and teen readin–instead of watching T–paid off.

    It is a fact, that teachers can only recommend to parents to leave the TV off. It’s up to the parent to control the TV at home. It is also up to the parent to control the food a child eats.

    We do not have any processed sugar in our house. Instead, our child grew up eating fruits and vegetables, lots of fruits, nuts, vegetables, etc, which is also brain food. Sodas are not brain food.

  56. Emoent says:

    I definitely agree that college isn’t suited for everyone. I think a big problem is students aren’t even aware of these options in high school. Many have no idea what they want to do with their lives, so the default is to attend college.
    I understand your view on how sometimes learning about literature, art, music, etc. doesn’t require one to be in class. But many people would never learn it if they didn’t have to – simply because they’re not interested. I believe that there is merit in learning things one isn’t particularly interested in and part of the college experience is precisely that. (I also think it trains us to work on things we’re not fond of, which I think is a big part of many people’s career.)
    I also believe that college isn’t about the degree or the paper. College used to not provide vocational training, but in recent decades there has been a great shift in higher education to provide such training for its students. Currently, that’s what many people view higher education as.
    However, higher education has intrinsic value. It exposes us to people we may not have encountered had we stayed in our communities. These differences poses new, interesting, and diverse questions for us to think about. It challenges our worldview, opinions, and beliefs, and asks us to exchange ideas with our peers.

    • “in recent decades there has been a great shift in higher education to provide vocational training for its students.”

      Vocational training in the US is mostly provided by two-year community colleges and private companies. The pulbic schools in the US once did this but drifted away from it starting in the 1980s due to decisions in Washington DC. However, most of the world still provides vocational training before the age of 16 – 18 — something the US abandoned decades ago and it was a BAD decisions in my opinion.

  57. vnrw75 says:

    Reblogged this on vnrw75's Blog.

  58. mud4fun says:

    Wow, your thoughts mirror the situation here in the UK where the education system is so totally geared to producing graduates that it has lost touch with industry and, in many respects, the real world. We also have a manufacturing industry that struggles to find suitably skilled employees.

    Too much emphasis is placed on academic achievement and not enough on vocational training and apprenticeships here in the UK although there are signs this is changing. Many companies here are now actively seeking new employees who do not have a degree as they can be employed at a younger age, on lower initial wage and can be trained up within the business. Such employees are proving more capable, more productive and greater able to deal with rapdily changing situations than the graduates.

    A University should be an elite form of education in the sense it should stand as a pinnacle of academic achievement for those youngsters who are themselves academically minded or gifted. We need such people to be our scientists, doctors or whatever. However our politicians need to understand that this career path is not suitable for the vast majority of students and there is no point pushing people down a route they are unable to follow or be successful in. Far better they become successful as a plumber, carpenter or sheet metal worker.

  59. Pingback: Did you know the US is still #1 in manufacturing output? | Digital Scofflaw

  60. Have you heard about Manufacturing Day? It’s a new nation-wide initiative to help spread awareness about the great opportunities that exist in manufacturing in our country. I think a lot of parents mistakenly push their kids into a college education thinking it is the best way to help them get a “professional career”. This has created a skill gap that has positions unfilled in a time of record unemployment. Manufacturing jobs are highly skills, professional and often good paying jobs with benefits.

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