In high schools throughout America, shop class has been eliminated and kids are often told that the only way to be successful is to have a four-year college degree. I reject this approach and, to the contrary, believe we need to put shop class back in high schools and instill in young people a heightened sense of pride and purpose for entering careers in the skilled trades.
This important debate is illuminated by a Bureau of Labor Statistics study showing 48% of college graduates working in jobs that don’t require a four-year degree. As you read this today, there are young people throughout America who have four-year liberal arts degrees, thousands of dollars in debt, and are serving coffee at Starbucks or working part-time at the mall.
I believe that many of these young people would have been better off with a two-year skilled trade or technical education with actual skills to secure a well-paying job and many opportunities for upward mobility.
For example, I recently visited Pioneer Pipe in Marietta and learned that last year the company paid 60 of its welders over $150,000 and two of its welders over $200,000. The owner said he has had to turn down orders because he can’t find enough skilled welders.
As baby boomers are retiring, I frequently hear about the shortage of welders, pipe-fitters, electricians, carpenters, machinists and other skilled trades in many parts of Ohio.
According to a recent Skills Gap Survey by the Manufacturing Institute, approximately 600,000 manufacturing jobs are unfilled nationally because employers can’t find qualified workers.
In order to fill these jobs, we need to encourage high school students who show an interest in making and building things with a willingness to sometimes get their hands dirty.
Ohio has some terrific examples of what needs to be happening throughout the country.
I’ve been to the heavy equipment lab at the Warren County Career Center, where they have a mock construction site teaching students how to operate everything from high-tech machinery to bulldozers and backhoes.
At the Career and Technology Education Centers of Licking County they are teaching students high tech manufacturing skills in welding and robotics. Schools like these put the tools on the tool belts of Ohioans in order to prepare them for jobs that are needed in today’s economy.
By putting shop class back in high schools, increasing access to technical and vocational education and bringing pride and profile to the men and women who work in these jobs, we can help inspire the kids and grandkids of America to restore the tradition of hard work of previous generations.
There is a quiet crisis upon us and in order to combat it and prosper as a country, we must work together to encourage young Americans to pursue careers in manufacturing and the skilled trades.
Josh Mandel is Treasurer of Ohio.