Where will we find essential workers in the future?
Regarding the guest editorial on Essential Workers by Joseph A. Colangelo last week – the fact that the city administration ignored the contributions of trade-workers in the pandemic recovery is merely a symptom of a much larger problem our society faces: the systematic destruction of our nation’s once-great trade-education system resulting in many people today believing that the trades don’t deserve respect. Where does this attitude come from?
School systems across the country have disbanded and defunded training programs in automotive, electrical, and other trades for decades. The attitude among many school administrators is that the trades are not valuable or respectable careers for students. Most counselors and teachers discourage good students from taking shop classes, and direct only “inferior” students to such programs. They are under the misconception that all high school grads must go directly to college or else they have failed. This thinking is completely wrong, but so prevalent that most parents have been brainwashed into believing it and push their children to go to college even if they are not motivated or prepared to do so. The result: half fail out.
Many young people possess the aptitude to pursue successful careers in the trades but are discouraged by the system. With proper training, those with the skills and necessary work ethic will achieve higher-paying jobs than do average college graduates. This fact directly contradicts the prevailing wisdom that has infected our educational system, which results in failing students who have no marketable skills and are buried in debt. By contrast, graduates of a high school or post-secondary trade-training program can immediately earn salaries on a par with most graduates of four-year colleges and be earning while training. For example, new members of Mr. Colangelo’s union begin working with higher salaries than most bachelors-degree holders, and in a few years are earning more than many with graduate-degrees. Like many others, I’ve had the good fortune to acquire both trade-skills and college degrees. The two paths are not mutually exclusive, but ideal. It’s time for educators to grasp this fact.
Many economists and other thought leaders have recently written about the need for more skilled-trade workers in our economy, and we frequently reinforce this idea on The Autolab Radio Show. Fortunately, some are beginning to see the light – many students are now seeking out trade-education, and schools like Bronx Community College, where I teach, have recently invested in new training facilities. Unfortunately, many schools cannot meet the demand for trade-training today. School systems must immediately return skilled-trades training to the status and funding it deserves. Without skilled workers performing critical jobs, our modern economy cannot thrive. Where do the education professionals, who often earn less than do skilled tradesmen, think the workers needed to rebuild our infrastructure will come from? We must produce enough skilled workers, or our high-tech economy will not survive.
With great hope for the return of trade education . . . before it’s too late!
Host, The Autolab Radio Show