The forgotten 'middle-skill' jobs

In Labor Day and the American Dream, William McGurn laments the tendency of our high schools to push college for all students.

In a paper called “America’s Forgotten Middle-Skill Jobs,” two economists—America University’s Robert Lerman and Georgetown’s Harry Holzer—say that there are still plenty of jobs that don’t require college but pay above the national average. The catch is that for high school graduates to get these jobs, they need to upgrade their skills through apprenticeships, community college, on-the-job training, certification programs, etc.

Of course, young people who haven’t mastered reading, writing and math skills can’t take advantage of vocational training.

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  1. I think the “college for all” mentality leaves a big hole in the American dream idea. Yes, if you go to college you have the opportunity to climb the social ladder, but there are opportunities to do the same without college. Our K-12 schools (public and private) blatantly ignore these most of the time, though many try to address the issue. Pressure for all students to achieve and achieve the same way via standardized exam throws a wrench in the goal of preparing students for middle-skill jobs.

  2. The ed biz doesn’t have any grasp of apprenticeships because everyone in it goes through the university system.

  3. I agree with the article in general, but object to the term “middle-skill jobs”…which suggests that these trades are less skill than jobs requiring college, which is often quite untrue.

    Compare, for example, the skills required by an airplane mechanic or avionics technician with those required of the incumbents in many of the vaguely-defined and unmeeasurable (but college-requiring) “coordinator” jobs in business, government, and the “nonprofit” world.

  4. The skilled craftsman is a job which will always be needed and can never be outsourced. No matter where your car is built, it has to be serviced here. No matter who designs your home, it has to be built here.

    These are not mind-numbing jobs. These are jobs which require skill, knowledge, and deductive reasoning. The majority of new millionaires today are those who have built their own companies in trades such as this.

    Best of all, these skills and careers do not suffer fools. Colleges are filled to the brim with people who have no practical skills. They spend their entire lives, substituting a large vocabulary for a large intellect. Strip the polysyllabic flotsam from the average “academic” paper, and you find something between simplistic drivel and utter nonsense.

    We have simultaneously pushed everyone towards higher education and dumbed down the definition of same. The fact that any institution suffers a department with the word “studies” in its title is proof of how far we have fallen.

    By forcing everyone towards ridiculous standards, we have eliminated the room, in terms of time, funding and physical space, for the classes that used to teach real world skills, and prepare students for practical rewarding careers. We do a disservice to them, as well as ourselves.

  5. If the original thrust of Labor Day was to celebrate union labor, then perhaps the focus should be on civil service jobs (degreed or not). According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about half of union jobs are in government. Rate of union membership for 2008 was 36.8 percent for the public sector, but only 7.6 percent for the private sector:


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