Youth could find more income and stability, equating to better lives, in vocational careers, rather than in traditional higher-education degrees. Though, it will be up to scores of American parents to change their mindsets regarding their children’s future. That may be a change forced by the economy.
Sixty years ago, parents urged kids to get a college degree. Most of those kids were first-generation college graduates and college was promoted as something that sets a job applicant apart from peers. It was a competitive advantage and many found the golden jobs that gave them financial security for their entire career, often retiring at the same company where it all began.
Times have changed for youths. Most students began attending college, part-time or full-time, beginning in the 1980s. Most job applicants for professional jobs have a degree and now focus on internships to set them apart. Even internships are becoming commonplace.
These graduates are handed a degree, along with thousands of dollars of debt when they walk the platform. The average college costs around $96,000 for four years. Yet, a report released in 2013 by the Center of College of Affordability and Productivity indicated that more than half of those with a college diploma are working at lower level jobs in which no degree is necessary.
The answer, if one listens to government and business leaders, is vocational education. While students have for decades pursued higher education, many manual labor jobs like mechanical, heating and air, and plumbing jobs are going unfilled. The truth is that skilled labor is vastly missing, partly due to those retiring and partly because kids were sent to college, and that is costing this country in both dollars and opportunity. Besides the consumers’ need for services like electricians and welders, high-tech companies often choose to located in an area based on the number of skilled laborers available. Cities could lose out if these basic services can not be provided.
The time is ripe for change. Educational and governmental leaders, including President Barack Obama, are attempting to move learning in a new vocational direction. States like Pennsylvania and Georgia are adding dollars to vocational budgets and expanding scholarship programs to encourage youth to move from earning higher-education degrees to seek income stability in vocational careers in order to find a better life than their parents. Pennsylvania created a subcommittee specifically to find ways to promote technical programs. Georgia voted to widen the state scholarship program to cover full tuition of brilliant students going into vocational careers.
The biggest obstacle to this changing economy is the attitude of parents and society. Skilled laborers have long been considered less educated, less cultured, and less preferable to more elite college-educated people. Part of this attitude stems from demographics of the early and middle 1900’s where college opportunity was more lacking and those who achieved a degree were suddenly thrown into the center of the society circle. For mostly working class or agricultural parents, the ideal dream for their children was a comfortable office job, or, better yet, a doctor or lawyer occupation. Those days are no more. Now, America must focus on providing a livelihood for its best and brightest. The money trail is there to be followed and it just might lead to a car engine or a welder’s torch.
The path to success and a better life for today’s youth may well be in vocational careers, rather than the ivy halls of a traditional higher-education degree. Youth should take the option seriously. States and local communities should encourage it. Parents should support it. Besides, at $60 an hour, these youth would be able to buy all the things that come with society status.
Opinion by Melody Dareing
Photo by Charles & Hudson – Flickr license