Updated: Mar 28, 2019
I admit going into this discussion that it is partially fact-based, and partially editorial. I will leave early childhood education alone this week—although it remains a high priority for all concerned. Let’s focus instead on post-secondary learning and more specifically, career-readiness.
Before we go any further, we as a society have to come to grips with the fact that not every child is a candidate for a traditional four-year college degree. There, I said it. There are thousands of jobs right now ready-made for young men and women in trades—jobs that allow them to walk out of a certificate or apprentice program into making more than $50,000, which is not a bad start for a 20-something.
Employers recognize the need and have funneled tremendous amounts of money into support for career and technical colleges, training programs for advanced manufacturing, and outreach initiatives into public schools at the secondary level. And the reason is pretty obvious. The U.S. Department of Education reports that there will be 68 percent more job openings in infrastructure-related fields in the next five years than there are people training to fill them.
Successful economic development hinges on a few key attributes, including the local labor force. A trained and educated work force is at the top of the list for a number of reasons, not least of which is the fact that new employers won’t have to invest mass sums into remedial education or training for new employees. But educated does not necessarily mean having a bachelor’s degree and advanced manufacturing today bears no resemblance to Charlie Chaplin’s vision of factory work in “Modern Times.” (Google it.)
Here’s an example shared with me a few years ago from a friend in Northern Kentucky. His son went to a small, liberal arts college, where he majored in Art. The medium he loved to work with was metal. During the course of his college career, he became proficient as a welder to work with his medium of choice. After graduation, he found little market for budding artists, so he became a welder to feed his family and practiced his art on the side. Today, he’s making more than $90,000 a year as a welder and still waiting for his big break as an artist.
He found his calling, but did his family really need to spend $200,000 in tuition for him to do so? The single biggest deterrent to children seeking careers in trades, support services, advanced manufacturing, infrastructure development, and logistics are parents. We need to rethink our position on post-secondary education to assure that more options exist for our children and that they aren’t berated or belittled for taking an alternative path.
Here is our weekly reminder to get nominations in for our Distinguished Alumni Awards. The deadline is March 31. You can download a form or complete it online at our website—givedanville.org. Also, class reunion season is upon us. If your class needs help with planning, logistics, or accessing our alumni database, let me know.
This article originally appeared in the March 11, 2019 edition of The Advocate-Messenger.