High school grads need ‘middle skills’

A man walks his dog past a mural depicting factory workers in Chicago's Pullman neighborhood. Photo: Andrew Nelles/Reuters
A man walks his dog past a mural depicting factory workers in Chicago’s Pullman neighborhood. Photo: Andrew Nelles/Reuters

Donald Trump persuaded Carrier to keep 1,000 production jobs in the U.S., but he won’t be able to make manufacturing great again, writes Anthony Carnevale in the Hechinger Report. To earn a middle-class living, high school graduates will need to train for “middle-skills” jobs. For most that will mean earning a vocational license, certificate or associate degree.

Robots, not low-paid Chinese workers, are responsible for most of the decline in manufacturing jobs.

Who’s taking manufacturing jobs?

Manufacturing jobs aren’t being shipped to low-wage countries like Mexico or China, writes Carnevale, who heads Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce. “In recent years, 88 percent of job loss in manufacturing is due to gains in productivity, such as increased use of robots.”

The economy needs service workers, he writes. While 19 percent of new jobs are low-paid, low-skilled “McJobs,” 36 percent are middle-skill jobs in “health care, information technology, financial services, office-based clerical and administrative work” and skilled work in construction, repair, and machinery operations. These jobs “pay close to the median earnings of all full-time, full-year workers ($42,000), if not more,” writes Carnevale.

In 1967, only 25 percent of workers had “some college,” he writes. “Now 61 percent of workers have some credentials beyond high school.”

We expect that about 20 percent of high school graduates, almost all men, can achieve a middle-class income through jobs that mostly involve skilled manual labor. But that still leaves nearly one-fifth of workers with not enough education or skills to thrive in the modern economy.

Manufacturing, which now employs 9 percent of the workforce, is not going to make a dramatic comeback, he argues. “The  United States should be investing in training and education that meets these workers where they live.”

STEM apprenticeships should be the future

Apprenticeships aren’t just for future construction workers, writes New America’s Nneka Jenkins Thompson on Ed Central. It’s a form of paid experiential learning that can help prepare students for well-paid, high-demand STEM careers.

A Corning technician tests Gorilla glass.

A Corning technician tests Gorilla glass.

Corning’s Technology Talent Pipeline pays students to study engineering and science at Corning Community College, while they work at least one day a week in company labs. “One hundred percent of Pipeline apprentices have transitioned to technician positions at Corning and remain at the company as full-time worker,” writes Thompson.

The company also has sponsored a new P-TECH school that will let teens train for technical careers while earning community college credits.

STEM requires a strong foundation in math, she writes. Yet only 20 percent of students who took the ACT in 2016 were prepared for entry-level math, ACT estimates.

“Apprenticeship can boost students’ confidence while building competence,” writes Thompson. Students learn to learn from mistakes, which are expected in hands-on learning environments. “When students see the results of what their own hands produce, they grow in confidence.”

Half of jobs that require STEM skills are in manufacturing, health care, or construction. Pay averages $53,000 a year — without a college degree.

Here’s more on the new model of apprenticeships.

How to do vocational ed right

Finland does vocational education right, writes Elizabeth A. Radday in Education Week. Ninth graders choose an academic or vocational high school: Nearly half choose the vocational path. It’s not considered the second-class track, writes Radday, who spent six months in Finland on a Fulbright.

Students at the Lahti circus school.

Students work on a certificate in “circus arts” at a school in Lahti, Finland.

Vocational schools offer certificates in a wide range of fields from plumbing and electricity to “tourism, business and entrepreneurship, health services, natural resources, technology, social services, and catering,” Radday writes. She visited a school where students learn to be circus performers.

Each year, vocational students spend at least six to eight weeks as apprentices. Employers are willing to provide training and evaluation.

After earning a certificate, typically at age 19, young people can find a job, train for a higher-level certificate or pursue a degree at a university of applied sciences. Those who wish can take the admissions exam for entry to a traditional university.

“College for all” has been the U.S. mantra for a long time now. Yet only a minority will complete a college degree. Few high schools offer high-quality vocational education and even fewer link students to apprenticeships.

The Obama administration tried to promote partnerships between employers, high schools and community colleges. I hope Trump’s education people can go farther to strengthen career-tech education and end the college (or nothing)-for-all philosophy.

Apprenticeships are expensive for employers — but worth it, reports New America’s Michael Prebil. A new federal report, The Benefits and Costs of Apprenticeship: A Business Perspective, discusses 13 case studies.

Poor achievers do little better than rich slackers

“Poor kids who do everything right don’t do much better than rich kids who do everything wrong,” writes Matt O’Brien in the Washington Post‘s Wonkblog.

The chart, based on research by Richard Reeves and Isabel Sawhill, shows that 14 percent of wealthy high school dropouts stay in the top income tier, while 16 percent of low-income college graduates stay in the lowest tier. “These low-income strivers are just as likely to end up in the bottom as these wealthy ne’er-do-wells,” writes O’Brien. “Some meritocracy.”

Rich kids who can go work for the family business — and, in Canada at least, 70 percent of the sons of the top 1 percent do just that — or inherit the family estate don’t need a high school diploma to get ahead. It’s an extreme example of what economists call “opportunity hoarding.” That includes everything from legacy college admissions to unpaid internships that let affluent parents rig the game a little more in their children’s favor.

By contrast, low-income graduates are more likely to earn a low-value degree from an unselective college or a “diploma mill.”  Blacks who earn a “good degree” are more likely to “live in impoverished neighborhoods that keep them disconnected from opportunities,” writes O’Brien.

Downtown College Prep, a San Jose charter that primarily educates low-income and working-class Mexican-Americans, offers career networking to help its graduates find professional jobs once they complete college. (Go ahead: Read the book.)

Apprentices train for white-collar jobs

Apprenticeships aren’t just for future plumbers, writes Hechinger’s Matt Krupnick. Community colleges are partnering with employers to create apprenticeships to fill white-collar jobs.

At Illinois’ Harper College, a community college just northwest of Chicago, Switzerland-based Zurich Insurance asked educators to try a Swiss-style apprenticeship program to train more claims adjusters and other workers for its Chicago-area offices. Zurich pays tuition and other expenses for each student, and each spends three days a week getting paid to work at the insurance company and two days in the classroom.

. . . The program lasts two years, after which the graduates have an associate degree in business administration with insurance industry certificates.

More than 150 people applied for the first 24 spots.

After two years, they’ll earn an associate degree in business administration with insurance industry certification. They’ll also have two years of job experience.

Harper College's insurance apprenticeship students.

Some of Harper College’s insurance apprenticeship students.

Even academic courses, such as English and math, are focused on skills relevant to the insurance industry. Students don’t read Shakespeare, writes Krupnick. They learn technical writing.

The Department of Labor, which certifies apprenticeship programs, is slow keeping up with the times, writes Krupnick. Its list “includes accordion-making and pneumatic tube repair apprenticeships among more than 1,200 apprenticeship-friendly professions, for example, but not yet cybersecurity.”

New America will analyze how to expand high-quality high school apprenticeships, writes Mary Alice McCarthy. “Our young people need options other than just enrolling in college and hoping they beat the odds.”

Who’s poor? Non-working singles

Alex Caicedo found full-time work and climbed above the poverty line last year. Photo: Justin T. Gellerson/New York Times

Millions of Americans are climbing out of poverty, reported the New York Times yesterday in a front-page story. “Poverty declined among every group,” according to Census data, with African-Americans and Hispanics making the greatest gains.

Over all, 2.9 million more jobs were created from 2014 to 2015, helping millions of unemployed people cross over into the ranks of regular wage earners. Many part-time workers increased the number of hours on the job. Wages, adjusted for inflation, climbed.

The number of employed adults per household explains much of income inequality, writes Mark Perry on Carpe Diem. The Census report, Income and Poverty in the United States, also shows the importance of marriage and education.

There are more than two full-time earners in the average top-quintile household compared to .43 for the lowest quintile in income.

While 62 percent of bottom quintile households had no earners in 2015, that was true for only 3.7 percent of top-quintile homes.

Require welfare recipients to work reduces poverty and improves lives, writes AEI’s Lawrence Mead.

A major cause of poverty is simply that few poor adults, both men and women, work regularly. The welfare reform of the late 1990s caused millions of welfare mothers to leave welfare for work, reducing the rolls by two-thirds and making most of the leavers better off. As work levels among poor mothers soared, poverty among children and minorities plunged to the lowest levels in history.

Work requirements should be extended to food stamps and housing subsidies, he argues. “We should also develop work programs for poor men in connection with child support and criminal justice.

U.S. kids lag in belittling skills, vocabulary

Most U.S. students lack the language skills and vocabulary necessary to belittle classmates effectively, according to the National Center for Education Research, reports The Onion.

“Unfortunately, most of our students are finishing high school with only a fifth-grade ability to shame and deride their peers,” said report co-author and educational psychologist Joyce Marrone. “While they know how to identify a loser, they lack the semantic tools to articulate exactly why that person is so lame, ugly, or stupid.”

The average eighth-grader knows only two synonyms for “slut,” the study found.

It’s critical for students to master the ability “to subtly question a female’s competence or snidely remark on a male’s perceived lack of masculinity,” notes The Onion.

Said Marrone, “If they don’t achieve linguistic proficiency while in school, they’ll never develop the gossiping, bad-mouthing, or shit-talking skills they’ll need to succeed in the workforce.”

Career tech ed vs. bureaucracy

Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act, a bipartisan update on the Perkins Act, is moving through Congress. Among other things, the bill is supposed to give states more flexibility and less paperwork.

Bureaucracy isn’t just a federal program, writes Monica Disare on Chalkbeat. In New York, it takes four to six years for schools to get state approval for a multi-year career-focused curriculum.

Students design products at Urban Assembly Maker Academy in New York City.

Students design products at Urban Assembly Maker Academy in New York City.

The delay turns off business partners and makes it hard to match career courses to new job markets. “If schools choose to forgo the certification process, they may have a tougher time securing federal funding and cannot provide their students with a CTE-endorsed diploma,” reports Disare.

At New York City’s Urban Assembly Maker Academy, Principal Luke Bauer wanted to start a program in “interaction design,” which focuses on how users interact with technology, writes Disare. Industry partners hoped it would lead some of his students to full-time jobs. But “the idea didn’t fit into any of the typical categories approved by New York state,” and getting approval was too difficult.

State certification requirements also make it hard to find CTE teachers — especially in emerging fields.

Group work in school isn’t ‘real world’

On “Ask a Manager,” Alison Green responds to someone who’s starting a business graduate program. Administrators say there will be lots of group work “just like the real business world!” He’s dreading it.

Group work in school is really, really different than working on a group project at work,” Green responds.

. . . at work you have totally different types of accountability. If someone is slacking off and not pulling their weight, you have recourse — you can talk to their boss and there’s the specter of consequences.

. . . In school, everyone working on a project is usually bringing similar skills and background to the project. At work, group projects are often made up of people with very different skill sets, because that’s the point of bringing them together to each handle different parts of the project.

And at work, there’s typically someone in the group who’s charge of the overall project and who has the power to make decisions and hold people accountable — whereas school group work often relies on consensus.

In school,  “group projects are often chaotic and imbalanced and frequently disliked,” writes Green. And not without reason.

What I learned at McDonald’s

At Haverford College, Olivia Legaspi learned that her feelings are more important than anything. That’s the ultimate in “privilege,” she believes.

Working at McDonald’s she learned to serve others’ needs, work as a team, deal with stress — without a “safe space” — and get the job done.