It took a moribund economy and unemployment combined with underemployment exceeding 25 percent for the United States to wake up to the realities of vocational schools. Apprenticeships and on-the-job training can be traced back to our nation’s founding. But as America prospered throughout the 20th century, workers turned their backs on manufacturing jobs, which they perceived as dirty and unglamorous.
Today, the most glamorous goal for the 20 million unemployed and underemployed Americans is to have a job. Therefore, vocational schools look pretty good today.
An estimated 600,000 skilled, middle-class manufacturing jobs remain unfilled nationwide, most of which have starting salaries of $50,000 to $60,000.
Yet, U.S. companies can’t find enough machinists, robotics specialists and other highly skilled workers to maintain their factory floors.
Manufacturing jobs today require workers who are computer literate and skilled in computer-aided design and engineering.
This message is starting to resonate; even younger workers who once were heading for college now see a brighter future in manufacturing.
I read that Dunwoody College of Technology, a private nonprofit school in Minneapolis, has 120 students enrolled in their two-year program in tool and die, computer-aided and robotics manufacturing. That’s the highest level of enrollees the school has had in 15 years.
The school offers a six-month fast track program to retrain workers in their 30s and 40s, who can’t take two years off to go back to school. And they have the option to return at any time and complete the two-year degree.
To supplement training by U.S. companies, The Wall Street Journal reported that in Chattanooga, Tenn., Germany’s Volkswagen, “whose auto factory will graduate its first class of U.S. apprentices next year, is one of dozens of companies introducing training that combine German-style apprenticeships and vocational schooling.”
“In March, Northern Virginia officials visited Siemens and other companies in Germany to explore how they could forge similar skills-building programs with local companies and local schools. White House and Education Department officials also have inquired about a high school skills-training program that German engine maker Tognum AG plans to launch this fall in South Carolina, where it operates a manufacturing plant.”
This vocation-training initiative has been largely lost to the Obama administration, which has placed all of its emphasis on college completion. The administration’s goal is to make America the global leader in degree attainment.
What good is it to have people with degrees who can’t find jobs, while ignoring talented students who could be learning skills that they could apply almost immediately to good-paying manufacturing jobs?
When the Obama administration finally woke up to technical training, their program had disastrous results.
They created a limited federal job-training program that was targeted almost exclusively to train workers for clean-energy jobs as part of the economic stimulus bill.
The Labor Department received $500 million to train 115,000 workers, but as of June 30, 2011, just 26,000 workers had completed training and only 8,000 of them had found work, according to the U.S. Office of Inspector General. That’s over $6 million a job.
Even U.S Secretary of Education Anne Duncan has said, “What drives me crazy every day is that ... we have at least 2 million high-skill, high-wage jobs that we can’t fill. We don’t have a jobs crisis. We have a skills crisis.”
While President Barack Obama has put forth a career and technical education reform bill, it has received almost no support for its $1 billion price tag. In fact, the proposed bill, which has not even been written yet, has already met with so little favor that news reports indicate there has not been a single hearing planned.
Vocational schools are enrolling students, and even foreign companies are coming here to retrain Americans, which, not surprisingly, is happening mostly in right-to-work states. What they have in common is that they are funded by private enterprise. They haven’t asked for governmental help, and they don’t want governmental help.
What they want is for the government to take the tax and regulatory yoke off their backs so manufacturing jobs can be created and we can retrain our people for 21st century careers.
The United States doesn’t need to lead the world in squandered college degrees. We need to lead the world in employment and productivity.
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