Do we need more vocational training in high schools?
With IBM's CEO Ginni Rometty coining the phrase "new collar" workers, a reader asked me to comment on this 2015 Forbes article [Why We Desperately Need To Bring Back Vocational Training In Schools] by Nicholas Wyman.
The article starts out giving background history of the current mess we are in. Here is an excerpt:
My father was a mechanical engineer who enjoyed fixing cars and woodworking on the weekends. I had plenty of "vocational training" growing up at home, no need for me to have this in school, allowing me to focus on getting ready for college.
Nicholas asks legitimate questions at this stage: "So what’s the harm in prepping kids for college? Won’t all students benefit from a high-level, four-year academic degree program?" His initial response is:
Hard to argue that people are different, and learn in different ways. Not everyone is meant for college.
"...And not everyone goes to college. The latest figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) show that about 68 percent of high school students attend college. That means over 30 percent graduate with neither academic nor job skills..."
Here is what I have most problems with. To think that the 30 percent of high schools students graduate, but do not go to college, have neither academic nor job skills? I disagree with this, as there are many jobs where the academic and job skill training they received in high school is more than adequate. Nicholas then doubled down:
There are a lot of successful billionaires who did not complete four yeas of college: Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Michael Dell, Henry Ford, and Howard Hughes, just to name a few.
If you feel that the only purpose of attending high school or college is to get job-specific skills, then you are missing out on all the other aspects of those that teach you valuable life lessons, getting along with others, teamwork, communications, and other "soft skills" that aren't necessarily job-specific.
Teenagers entering college are still growing up, trying to figure out what they want to do with their lives, discovering new ideas, new ways of thinking, and networking with people of different backgrounds and cultures.
"...The U.S. economy has changed. The manufacturing sector is growing and modernizing, creating a wealth of challenging, well-paying, highly skilled jobs for those with the skills to do them. The demise of vocational education at the high school level has bred a skills shortage in manufacturing today, and with it a wealth of career opportunities for both under-employed college grads and high school students looking for direct pathways to interesting, lucrative careers. 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..."
The skills shortage is real, but until employers are willing to pay people for what they're worth, the situation will not be resolved. The free market has a way to fix skills shortages. High demand raises salaries, and causes people to invest in high school and college education in part to vie for these positions. That is in part why medical doctors are paid so much.
"...The modern workplace favors those with solid, transferable skills who are open to continued learning. Most young people today will have many jobs over the course of their lifetime, and a good number will have multiple careers that require new and more sophisticated skills..."
A few years ago, I was hosting clients for dinner in Tucson. The sales rep had brought his daughter and her roommate along, as there was a shooting at their college campus and classes were canceled for the week. The daughter asserted, "In 18 months, I will no longer have to learn anything again. I will be done with school." Her roommate chimed in, "Ha! I am a year ahead of you, and only six months away from that!"
I was the bearer of bad news. "Ladies," I said, "you will have to get used to learning new things the rest of your lives." The highest ranking client at the table overheard me, and she re-iterated, "Ladies, that is probably the best advice I have heard in awhile. I suggest you heed it carefully."
A big part of high school and college education is to teach you how to learn on your own. Learn to read, search out information, take measurements, gather data, make plans, and ask the right questions. These are skills that are useful in a wide variety of careers.
Nicholas concludes with:
"...Just a few decades ago, our public education system provided ample opportunities for young people to learn about careers in manufacturing and other vocational trades. Yet, today, high-schoolers hear barely a whisper about the many doors that the vocational education path can open. The “col
I agree the educational system in United States is broken, but I am not sure I agree with everything that Nicholas writes in this article.