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Low-Hanging Fruit
The Urgency of Vocational Training

America’s education system is currently oriented around funneling as many students as possible into four-year BA programs with soaring price tags and inconsistent returns on investment. Meanwhile, according to a new Manhattan Institute report by Mark Mills, skilled trade jobs that don’t require a four-year degree and can sometimes offer six-figure salaries mid-career—diesel technician, welder, pipe fitter—are going unfilled. From the abstract:

There are an estimated one-half million more jobs available than workers with relevant skills in trades from construction and manufacturing to aviation, a gap forecast to rise to 2 million within a decade. Such jobs are accessible with a two-year degree or apprenticeship and pay well above average, often at salaries higher than associated with many college degrees. […]

Skilled trades vacancies have been the hardest to fill for six consecutive years. Some 60% of unfilled manufacturing jobs are due to a shortage of applicants with requisite skills.

One of the major stories of this election cycle has been the way that technology and automation are eating into the wages of non-college educated workers. But as Mills notes, “skilled trades are still needed to fabricate, maintain, and operate virtually everything.” America urgently needs to reshape its education system around this reality. That means fewer subsidies for four-year degree factories, re-investment in vocational programs, and, just as important, a cultural shift so that such work is once again respected and encouraged.

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  • Kevin

    But how many diesel technicians even live in Midtown Manhattan and hang out with NYTeditorial writers? Better to get that BA in English and work as a barista while you wait for your masterpiece to be published.

    • LarryD

      In the elite worldview, all those hands-on, skilled trades are icky. Only suitable for such inferior folk, that the elites don’t want in their cities, their states, their countries. They have no idea where all the goods come from, they just appear in stores magically.

      The combination of their ignorance, and contempt for the working class, is why their policies fail. They are based on magical thinking.

      • J K Brown

        Where is the fight against inequality in the dignity of type of work?

        • LarryD

          Post-modernism rejects Logic. Gets in the way of The Narrative.

    • f1b0nacc1

      I do volunteer work with a Robotics group (HS students), and it is fascinating to watch their oh-so-very-liberal mothers (all mothers, you don’t see any fathers) recoiling in shock as their kids turn away from pre-law (always pre-law) and embrace engineering, or even worse….no college at all! The idea that their kids would work with their hands fills them with a palpable dread that they do a very bad job of hiding….

  • Dale Fayda

    Get the government out of post-secondary education and this imbalance would normalize itself, based on natural demand. I know, fat chance of that happening…

    • catch22

      Yeah, fat chance. But we can make a personal decision to leave the government out of our lives. The ideal government exists to protect life and property. Nothing else. With those protected we can make things and live a fruitful existence. A government that can’t or won’t protect life and property serves no purpose. It is a nasty virus that ends up making promises such as paying for everyone’s 4 year BA. And it grows and grows and grows like any virus… Just say no!

  • Jim__L

    Used to be that high schools had Auto Shop, Wood Shop, and Metal Shop. As far as I know, they have none of those now, and even the Arts programs are going down the drain.

    What the h**l are we spending money on now, that we weren’t spending money on then?

    And, more importantly, how do we get rid of it?

    • seattleoutcast


      I wish I could find the quote, but I can’t. I remember James Dewey once saying that he looked forward to the time when schools would spend 15% of their time on education and 85% on indoctrination. Looks like he got his wish.

    • Andrew Allison

      Teacher’s pensions and administration.

  • vb

    With the current availabilty of online education, students who learn trades are no longer stuck for life in the same job. Today, if the decide they want to start their own company, they can take a course in business, taxes, or finance. They can pursue other interests that may lead them into local politics or social projects. Getting a credential doesn’t mean you have to turn off your brain.

    • J K Brown

      And a recent report revealed that the big users of online education are mid-career professionals.

      And all a liberal arts education requires is a habit for reading. Or you can now get a lot via podcasts such as The British History Podcast.

  • J K Brown

    In the light of this analysis Carlyle’s rhapsody on tools becomes a prosaic fact, and his conclusion—that man without tools is nothing, with tools all—points the way to the discovery of the philosopher’s stone in education. For if man without tools is nothing, to be unable to use tools is to be destitute of power; and if with tools he is all, to be able to use tools is to be all-powerful. And this power in the concrete, the power to do some useful thing for man–this is the last analysis of educational truth.

    —Charles H. Ham, Mind and Hand: manual training, the chief factor in education (1900)

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