FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

My Advice to High School Grads: Learn a Trade

In the classic 1960s movie The Graduate, a family friend offers Dustin Hoffman, the recent graduate, one word of advice: “plastics.”

My advice for today’s high school graduates: “learn a trade.”

Unfortunately, there’s a historic stigma about “voc-ed,” the result of snobbery toward certain occupations.

Yes, there’s also the shameful practice of tracking low-income whites and people of color into blue-collar jobs while encouraging wealthier white students to attend college. But now there are millions of rewarding, high-paying trade jobs sitting empty.

Instead of training for those, tens of millions of high school graduates are on college autopilot, loading up an average of $37,000 in debt, and graduating without any practical skills.

Not only is our economy suffering for lack of skilled workers, but also a huge number of workers are unhappy and earning below their financial potential.

There are legions of depressed Dilberts out there in cubicle land, sitting in front of computer screens, wondering who will be laid off next. And there are millions of young people sitting in college classrooms dreaming of being somewhere else.

Put these same people in an apprenticeship with a skilled adult and they’ll thrive. Instead of wasting their intelligence in an office, they could deploy it in a bicycle or auto repair garage, woodworking shop, or on a farm or construction site.

Princeton economist Alan Blinder says the job market of the future won’t be divided between people with college degrees and those without, but between work that can be outsourced and work that can’t. “You can’t hammer a nail over the internet,” he observed. “Nor can you fix a car transmission, rewire a house, install solar panels, or give a patient an injection.”

The value of a liberal arts college education is exposure to a wide range of ideas and knowledge, along with social networks. But college is certainly not the only path to such learning. And four-year residential college today has more in common with a party on a luxury cruise ship than a platform for learning a vocation.

True, today the lifelong earnings of college graduates exceed those who don’t attend college. But there’s no evidence this will be the case going forward. Have you paid an electrician or a plumber anytime lately? There’s a reason they’re hard to find and can command a high wage. It’s called scarcity.

Millions more “green collar” jobs are emerging in our transition to the renewable energy economy. And at some point, our nation will have to repair our aging bridges, roads, and transportation facilities and retrofit buildings to be more energy efficient.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, one third of all new jobs through 2022 will be in construction, health care, and personal care. The fastest growing occupations are solar and wind energy technicians, followed by plumbers, machine tool programmers, HVAC mechanics, and iron and steel workers.

Changing attitudes about different occupations is part of the challenge.

Parents and guidance counselors can start by respectfully talking about the opportunities in trades. They can introduce students to people with satisfying careers in the trades and steer them to useful web resources on the path to trades.

Congress could help by making Pell grants available for short-term job training courses, not just college tuition. It could also restore funding for Tech-Prep, a neglected federal program that supports vocational education.

Let’s dump the old class-biased stereotypes. It takes all kinds of intelligence and advanced training to do a trade. And it can be financially rewarding and enormously satisfying.

 

More articles by:

Weekend Edition
December 14, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
A Tale of Two Cities
Peter Linebaugh
The Significance of The Common Wind
Bruce E. Levine
The Ketamine Chorus: NYT Trumpets New Anti-Suicide Drug
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Fathers and Sons, Bushes and Bin Ladens
Kathy Deacon
Coffee, Social Stratification and the Retail Sector in a Small Maritime Village
Nick Pemberton
Praise For America’s Second Leading Intellectual
Robert Hunziker
The Yellow Vest Insurgency – What’s Next?
Patrick Cockburn
The Yemeni Dead: Six Times Higher Than Previously Reported
Nick Alexandrov
George H. W. Bush: Another Eulogy
Brian Cloughley
Principles and Morality Versus Cash and Profit? No Contest
Michael F. Duggan
Climate Change and the Limits of Reason
Victor Grossman
Sighs of Relief in Germany
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Robert Fantina
What Does Beto Have Against the Palestinians?
Richard Falk – Daniel Falcone
Sartre, Said, Chomsky and the Meaning of the Public Intellectual
Andrew Glikson
Crimes Against the Earth
Robert Fisk
The Parasitic Relationship Between Power and the American Media
Stephen Cooper
When Will Journalism Grapple With the Ethics of Interviewing Mentally Ill Arrestees?
Jill Richardson
A War on Science, Morals and Law
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Evaggelos Vallianatos
It’s Not Easy Being Greek
Nomi Prins 
The Inequality Gap on a Planet Growing More Extreme
John W. Whitehead
Know Your Rights or You Will Lose Them
David Swanson
The Abolition of War Requires New Thoughts, Words, and Actions
J.P. Linstroth
Primates Are Us
Bill Willers
The War Against Cash
Jonah Raskin
Doris Lessing: What’s There to Celebrate?
Ralph Nader
Are the New Congressional Progressives Real? Use These Yardsticks to Find Out
Binoy Kampmark
William Blum: Anti-Imperial Advocate
Medea Benjamin – Alice Slater
Green New Deal Advocates Should Address Militarism
John Feffer
Review: Season 2 of Trump Presidency
Rich Whitney
General Motors’ Factories Should Not Be Closed. They Should Be Turned Over to the Workers
Christopher Brauchli
Deported for Christmas
Kerri Kennedy
This Holiday Season, I’m Standing With Migrants
Mel Gurtov
Weaponizing Humanitarian Aid
Thomas Knapp
Lame Duck Shutdown Theater Time: Pride Goeth Before a Wall?
George Wuerthner
The Thrill Bike Threat to the Elkhorn Mountains
Nyla Ali Khan
A Woman’s Selfhood and Her Ability to Act in the Public Domain: Resilience of Nadia Murad
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
On the Killing of an Ash Tree
Graham Peebles
Britain’s Homeless Crisis
Louis Proyect
America: a Breeding Ground for Maladjustment
Steve Carlson
A Hell of a Time
Dan Corjescu
America and The Last Ship
Jeffrey St. Clair
Booked Up: the 25 Best Books of 2018
David Yearsley
Bikini by Rita, Voice by Anita
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail