College should not be the only gateway to the middle class, writes Robert Reich, who was Bill Clinton’s secretary of Labor, in Salon. Obsessed with bachelor’s degrees, “we’ve allowed vocational and technical education to be downgraded and denigrated,” he writes. But our economy needs skilled technicians.
As digital equipment replaces the jobs of routine workers and lower-level professionals, technicians are needed to install, monitor, repair, test, and upgrade all the equipment.
Hospital technicians are needed to monitor ever more complex equipment that now fills medical centers; office technicians, to fix the hardware and software responsible for much of the work that used to be done by secretaries and clerks.
Automobile technicians are in demand to repair the software that now powers our cars; manufacturing technicians, to upgrade the numerically controlled machines and 3-D printers that have replaced assembly lines; laboratory technicians, to install and test complex equipment for measuring results; telecommunications technicians, to install, upgrade, and repair the digital systems linking us to one another.
Community colleges train technicians at “bargain” prices, but they’re “systematically starved of funds,” writes Reich. State legislators “direct most higher-education funding to four-year colleges and universities because that’s what their middle-class constituents want for their kids.”
Business “executives are usually the products of four-year liberal arts institutions and don’t know the value of community colleges,” he adds.
By contrast, Germany provides its students the alternative of a world-class technical education that’s kept the German economy at the forefront of precision manufacturing and applied technology.
The skills taught are based on industry standards, and courses are designed by businesses that need the graduates. So when young Germans get their degrees, jobs are waiting for them.
Young Germans choose a technical or academic track by age 14, writes Reich. Americans wouldn’t go for that.
But we could “combine the last year of high school with the first year of community college” to train technicians, writes Reich. Employers “would help design the courses and promise jobs” to graduates. Late bloomers could pursue associate or bachelor’s degrees, if they choose.
North Carolina is adding five-year “early college” high schools, such as Wake Early College of Health and Sciences. Students can graduate with a two-year degree or health science certificate.
IBM helped design New York City’s P-TECH, which adds two years of college-level job training to four years of high school. IBM will hire graduates who want to go directly to the workforce.
P-TECH in Brooklyn fields a robotics team.
Germany’s job training model — a mix of vocational classwork and on-the-job apprenticeships — is catching on in the U.S., reports Jon Marcus for the Hechinger Report.
Students at Indiana’s Ivy Tech community colleges will be able to spend three days a week in class and two working — for pay — at companies such as Industrial Electric.
Ivy Tech plans to add programs in advanced automation and robotics, collaborating with employers who run assembly plants.
The Obama administration is promoting academic credit for apprenticeships.
However, funding apprenticeships is expensive. “In Germany, employers pay 75 percent of the $19,850 annual cost of each trainee, and the government covers the rest,” writes Marcus. Ivy Tech is trying to get employers to cover the cost for trainees they hire.
Only about 10 percent of American 18- to 22-year-olds get on-the-job training, the OECD reports.
High youth unemployment and a shortage of skilled workers is a problem in Europe too, except for Germany, reports The Economist.
Factory apprenticeship is the latest model from Germany, reports the New York Times. After the first 60 workers were hired at BMW’s South Carolina factory, “it seemed like we had sucked up everybody who knew about diesel engines,” said Joerg Klisch, vice president for North American operations of Tognum America. The factory needs workers who can repair robots and operate computers.
Tognum has created an apprenticeship program in partnership with local high schools and a career center.
“South Carolina offers a fantastic model for what we can do nationally,” said Ben Olinsky, co-author of a forthcoming report by the Center for American Progress, a liberal Washington research organization, recommending a vast expansion in apprenticeships.
In Germany, apprentices divide their time between classroom training in a public vocational school and practical training at a company or small firm. Some 330 types of apprenticeships are accredited by the government in Berlin, including such jobs as hairdresser, roofer and automobile electronics specialist. About 60 percent of German high school students go through some kind of apprenticeship program, which leads to a formal certificate in the chosen skill and often a permanent job at the company where the young person trained.
In the U.S., apprenticeships face obstacles from left and right, reports the Times. “School officials were wary of allowing a private company to dictate the curriculum,” while employers feared apprenticeships meant unions.
Young people in their 20s and 30s can apply to be BMW Scholars. They study full-time at local technical colleges for two years while working in the BMW factory for 20 hours a week.
Apprenticeship closes the skills gap, writes Mary Alice McCarthy, a New America Foundation policy analyst, on EdCentral. But many employers aren’t willing to develop new workers’ skills.
Instead, employers wait for the perfect job candidate, reports Time in The Real Reason Recent Grads Can’t Get Hired. Companies say they can’t find “team players, problem solvers [who] can plan, organize and prioritize their work.”
Business has shifted the onus of skills development almost entirely onto job seekers” and local education providers, writes McCarthy.
Young workers in the 1970s received an average of 2.5 weeks of training per year. By contrast, a 2011 survey of employees and employers by Accenture revealed that only 21% of workers had received any formal training in the last five years.
Young people need the chance to learn on the job “how to navigate an organization, manage a work project, communicate effectively with colleagues, supervisors, and clients and solve work-specific problems,” McCarthy writes.
While older Americans scored well, younger Americans lagged behind workers in other developed countries, reports the Wall Street Journal.
Two-thirds of Swiss teens choose to “combine learning at the workplace and learning in a classroom,” says Schwartz. Switzerland has the “lowest youth unemployment rate in the developed world, yet it ranks very high in innovation and economic performance.
When you talk to Swiss leaders and ask how can this be, you have such a small fraction of your young people going through the university system, the Swiss will say, “No, no, it’s because we really invest in preparing folks who are at the front lines and we look to our kind of everyday workers to provide a lot of the innovation that really spurs the economy.”
Young Swiss apprentices are put to work immediately, says Hoffman.
. . . in the banking industry, we saw 16-year-olds in suits and little round glasses all sitting next to their hedge fund managers and actually handling aspects of accounts. You go to Swiss.com which is the biggest telephone Internet provider in Switzerland and there they have an extremely innovative program where students can choose to work on any project that any employer posts on a bulletin board.
By the third year, at age 17 or 18, apprentices earn about $1,000 a month, says Schwartz. Once they complete the program, they’ve earned a valuable qualification which puts them “on a ladder to a middle-class wage.” That idea is spreading to the U.S.
. . . Volkswagen, which operates a 3,000-person plant in Chattanooga proudly announced the completion of a first apprenticeship program in automotive mechatronics for 25 young people. They do this in partnership with a regional community college there. These people now have a qualification that is worldwide in value.
Vocational education isn’t stigmatized in Switzerland, Finland and other countries that have modernized their systems, Hoffman says.
So while they teach construction and they teach carpentry and they teach the old trades, the system is really known as the place you go if you want any kind of high-tech skills. If you want to be an engineer, if you want to work in IT, if you want to learn graphic design, if you want to be a nurse, if you want to be a childcare teacher, you go to the vocational system.
In Switzerland, vocational students can go on to the University of Applied Sciences. At Credit Suisse, 40 percent of apprentices also were studying for a professional baccalaureate, says Schwartz. “There are no dead ends.”
Youth unemployment is a worldwide problem, reports The Economist in Generation jobless. Yet many employers in countries from the U.S. to Morocco say they can’t find entry-level workers with the right skills.
Poor basic education is only part of the problem.
Countries with the lowest youth jobless rates have a close relationship between education and work. Germany has a long tradition of high-quality vocational education and apprenticeships, which in recent years have helped it reduce youth unemployment despite only modest growth.
Countries with high youth unemployment are short of such links. In France few high-school leavers have any real experience of work. In north Africa universities focus on preparing their students to fill civil-service jobs even as companies complain about the shortage of technical skills. The unemployment rate in Morocco is five times as high for graduates as it is for people with only a primary education.
Employers do much less training on the job.
Many countries are trying to improve vocational schools and develop apprenticeships, reports The Economist.
In 2010 South Korea created a network of vocational “meister” schools—from the German for “master craftsman”—to reduce the country’s shortage of machine operators and plumbers. . . . In Britain some further-education colleges are embracing the principle that the best way to learn is to do: North Hertfordshire College has launched a business venture with Fit4less, a low-cost gym. Bluegrass College in Kentucky and Toyota have created a replica of a car factory, where workers and students go to classes together.
Bluegrass is a community and technical college, so job training is part of the mission. Many community colleges work closely with employers on workforce development.
Via Meadia has more thoughts on practical vs. academic education.
Higher education’s financial squeeze will worsen, predicts a Moody’s report. All the traditional revenue sources — tuition, state and federal funding, endowments and philanthropy — are under pressure.
The end is not nigh for U.S. colleges and universities, argues Robert J. Sternberg, provost and professor of psychology and education at Oklahoma State, in the Chronicle of Higher Ed.
Some people want the cheapest education possible that will get them the job they want. Others want much more: nice dormitories, diverse student activities, world-famous professors, top-flight institutional reputation—and are willing to pay for it. An advantage of the higher-education market is that financial aid is often available to help students reach beyond what they normally could afford.
Second, students are not merely consumers of higher education; they also actively construct their college careers. They develop a plan for their coursework, their project work, their extracurricular activities, and their social network.
. . . two students going to the same college may produce entirely different educations.
Top German universities charge much less than comparable U.S. universities but offer no “university-sponsored athletic teams or facilities, fraternities, sororities, student clubs, dormitories, meal plans, or other accouterments,” Sternberg writes. If German students want activities, they organize and pay for them.
American universities can reduce costs by greatly lowering their overhead, as do the German universities, or by having professors do some or even all of their teaching online. What students may lose, however, is much, or even most, of the informal curriculum of college—the networking and the face-to-face personal interactions that many people feel are so important to the college experience.
Some will choose a cheap, no-frills college degree, but others will pay more for an academic-and-social degree, Sternberg suggests.
Community college students forego nearly all the frills, using far less student aid than those who opt for “the college experience.” Should taxpayers be asked for fund students’ social life?