By Robert Stitt
The joke is told about a plumber who fixed a leaking faucet at a neurosurgeon’s house. It took just two minutes, but the plumber’s bill was $150.
The neurosurgeon exclaimed, “I don’t make that much in two minutes, and I am a brain surgeon!”
The plumber replied, “I didn’t when I was a surgeon, either. That’s why I switched to plumbing.”
While we tell stories like this as a joke, the reality is that somewhere along the line Americans have lost respect for blue collar workers. Doing your 9-5 to put food on the table and a roof overhead is no longer good enough. At least that’s what we tell our children. All students should get a college prep education and go to college. We preach it to them when they first step through the schoolhouse door and don’t stop until they graduate or drop out.
Granted, the shift from skill-based education to a college-prep academic focus in schools happened for the best of reasons. In the 1950s, students that didn’t show “aptitude” were tracked into shop and woodworking classes and denied an opportunity to study higher level academics. This often led to tracking not just by aptitude, but by socio-economic and racial factors which restricted minority and working-class students.
Tracking was stopped, but the vocational skills that led to employment and bill paying never came back to many schools. Instead, all students took the same path toward college like it or not, realistic or not. And it isn’t realistic. Statistically, only 2/3 of high school students will even go to college, and only half of them will finish. That means, on average, nearly 67 percent of the students we prepare for college are not graduating, AND we have not provided them with any vocational education skills either.
Forbes notes that “Throughout most of U.S. history, American high school students were routinely taught vocational and job-ready skills along with the three Rs: reading, writing and arithmetic. Indeed readers of a certain age are likely to have fond memories of huddling over wooden workbenches learning a craft such as woodwork or maybe metal work, or any one of the hands-on projects that characterized the once-ubiquitous shop class.” Those days are gone, unless we press our leaders to make some changes, and we really need to.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 53 percent of recent college graduates are unemployed or underemployed and 1/3 are in jobs that only require a high school education.
What about those studies saying college grads earn more? That’s only true some of the time, and usually when compared against all high school students. When college grads are compared against students who have vocational training the numbers tell quite a different story.
Forbes notes that “many of the jobs in manufacturing are attainable through apprenticeships, on-the-job training, and vocational programs offered at community colleges. They don’t require expensive, four-year degrees for which many students are not suited.” Isn’t it time that we realign our high schools to prepare students for the careers they might actually work in? Then, let’s drop the elitism and let them know that any job is a good job. Find your passion and peruse it.