Last week, the White House revealed its plan to expand apprenticeship programs, along with a renewed emphasis on career and technical education. This is an important and positive development. In 2009, the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that companies were struggling to fill 2.1 million skilled trade positions.
Throughout my years as a high school teacher, I have watched with dismay the tendency of well-intentioned guidance counselors and some parents to encourage all students to attend a four year college; irrespective of aptitude, motivation, or interest. It is not simply that pushing all high school graduates towards college is not helpful, it does actual harm. Many young people have other talents and would benefit from a more practical preparation for life. An education system rooted in reality (as opposed to romanticism) will leave some children behind. Worse than failing out of college, is for young people to see themselves as failures, and forgo other opportunities as a result.
Nationally, approximately 50 percent of first time, full time attendees of 4 year colleges will earn college degrees. And many will earn degrees that are unlikely to prepare them for life but will saddle them with student loans. Meanwhile, well-paying manufacturing and skilled trade jobs remain unfulfilled, because companies simply do not have enough qualified applicants applying. In a press release issued last week President Trump said (that), “Workforce development is critical, the skills gap is real…If we stay on current trajectory 2 million (manufacturing jobs), will remain unfilled.”
Career and technical education for skilled trades such as plumbing and electrical provides advantages that many liberal arts graduates lack: such as a marketable skill set and positive net worth. The Perkins Act, which is before Congress this week, and which enjoys bipartisan support, would increase appropriations for career and technical education that will profit many who should not be sold a bill of goods that a college degree is the key to success for everybody.