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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