Ignoring Vocational Schools Ignores a More Prosperous Future

I came across a fascinating article in The Wall Street Journal recently that reported that due to Germany’s aggressive promotion of vocational schools and skills training, the German unemployment rate for young people is below 8 percent.

Contrast that to a new report that one in four Americans aged 24 to 54 aren’t working. That’s an unemployment rate of 25 percent. For our teenagers it is even much higher.

That’s a tragedy. But at the root of the problem is nothing to do with a lack of available jobs. It has to do with a certain kind of American snobbery that perceives manufacturing and craftsmen jobs as somehow demeaning.

Young people need a wake-up call if they want to build a meaningful career.

While so many of our young people are unemployed, the Labor Department estimated in June there were 281,000 manufacturing job openings, but only 248,000 were filled. That’s more than 30,000 good-paying jobs that went unfilled.

The reason, of course, is that there is a lack of trained workers who can fill these jobs.

What is Germany doing right?

The Journal noted that German companies underwrite apprenticeship programs that allow students to gain on-the-job training three to four days a week. The rest of the time they attend vocational schools, where their skills are strengthened even further. That’s a smart approach to job creation.

Now, German companies are exporting their approach to the U.S.

A 37-year old woman in Tennessee, after completing an apprenticeship program, is earning $22.00 an hour at a Volkswagen plant, which is 50 percent higher than the median wage in her state. And it is interesting to note that Tennessee is a right-to-work state.

The good news is that some American states are paying attention.

A Brookings Institution report found, for example, that in the state of Washington, earnings from educational and training programs surpassed earnings from traditional educational venues.

In fact, apprenticeship programs in 10 states showed similar patterns.

What’s holding back vocational training in the U.S?

It’s an embedded belief that only a college education has value — something constantly reinforced by the Obama administration, which pushes young people in that direction.

In fact, Obama has proposed that the nation’s universities increase the number of degrees they grant by using federal funding as an incentive to boost the number of college graduates. His goal is to raise the nation’s college graduation rate to 60 percent by 2020.

That sounds good until you take into account a 2013 report from the Center for College Affordability and Productivity that found nearly half of the nation’s recent college graduates work in jobs that don’t require a degree.

The researchers claimed that 15 percent of taxi drivers had at least a bachelor’s degree in 2010, compared with 1 percent in 1970.

I’m not suggesting that a college education has no value. It does. But young people should broaden their post-high school education options beyond traditional colleges and universities.

It can start with high school guidance counselors offering a broader scale of opportunities, which should include vocational- and job-training options.

Parents should think on a broader scale also. Should we spend $80,000 for a college education that may have their child living back at home because they can’t find suitable work?

Employers should be reaching out to area schools to identify potential job candidates and working with counselors to encourage vocational and jobs training.

This is a win-win for America. Jobs stay in America. Employment rises. Young people enjoy a higher standard of living and have renewed hope. It reduces the millions of college graduates and their families strapped with huge student loans.

And most importantly, it gets America working again. Factories work at full capacity and a new generation of trained American workers starts to emerge. All it takes is the courage to take a fresh look at this nation’s educational and training programs.

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