Related to our earlier post on the bifurcated job market, here are two Saturday reads for you to ponder:1) Megan McArdle, writing in the Daily Beast last week, suggested that a kind of fundamental shift is underway in our society: “Skilled workers with higher degrees are increasingly ending up in lower-skilled jobs that don’t really require a degree–and in the process, they’re pushing unskilled workers out of the labor force altogether.”2) An article in this weekend’s New York Times magazine, ostensibly about the town of Baiersbronn and its two Michelin three-star restaurants, serves as an unexpectedly good backgrounder on the German system of vocational training.
The dual-training system is evidence of the close cooperation between business, the state and workers that helps account for Germany’s success, both in niche industries and big multinational enterprises like Siemens and Mercedes. Vocational schools, usually offering a course of study lasting between two and three and a half years, are financed and run by the states. Would-be apprentices apply not to the schools but to businesses, which decide how many future employees they need to have trained. Some specialties have national academies: aspiring hearing-aid technicians go to Lübeck, for example; piano builders to Ludwigsburg.
We’re not sure that the explanation McArdle is highlighting is completely right—that the demand for high-skilled workers is falling off due to increased automation. (She admits herself that it’s a somewhat speculative thesis and based only on one study.) And we don’t think that the German system, with its intimate linkages between state and private sector, is going to find traction in the US any time soon.Nevertheless, both articles gesture towards themes we often highlight here at VM: That our schools are failing to prepare the rising generation for the demands of the modern job market. And that a promising way forward is to reform our education system to be more about credentialing individuals with specific skills that employers want and less about attaining a generic diploma.Any thoughts from our readership? Have at it in the comments.