Manufacturers see skills gap

Many job applicants lack the basic math and computer skills needed to train for high-tech manufacturing jobs, employers complain. By the way, “blue-collar” is out. These are opportunities for “blue tech” workers.

Community college leaders are working with employers to make students employable.

Success paths for all

How can high schools ensure graduates are college- and career-ready, asks an Education Next forum.

Students need multiple pathways, writes Robert Schwartz, a Harvard professor emeritus who coleads the Pathways to Prosperity Network. “We have allowed a very important idea—that all students need a solid foundation of core academic knowledge and skills—to morph into a not-so-good idea: that all students need to be prepared to attend a four-year college,” he writes.

If we follow a cohort of 8th graders, roughly 2 in 10 will drop out before high school graduation, and another 3 will graduate high school but choose not to enroll in postsecondary education. Of those who do go on and enroll in four-year institutions, nearly 4 in 10 will drop out before attaining a degree. Of those who enroll in community colleges, roughly 7 in 10 will drop out. The bottom line: by age 25, only 33 percent of the cohort will have attained a four-year degree, and another 10 percent will have earned a two-year degree.

Many good jobs require some education beyond high school but not a four-year degree, Schwartz writes. He likes the northern European model: “All students pursue a common curriculum up through grade 9 or 10, and then choose between an academics-only pathway leading to university and a more applied-learning pathway leading to a vocational qualification.”

Instead of letting students choose their path, we “force march all students” through a math sequence leading to calculus, a goal few will achieve and even fewer will need, he writes.

Yet most community college students and many university students aren’t prepared for college algebra. “In my view, the vast majority of students in two- and four-year institutions would be much better served by getting a solid grounding in data, statistics, and probability in high school,” he writes.

Common foundational skills are essential, writes Cynthia G. Brown, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. All students should take a college-prep curriculum, but high school students could choose “curricular options that fit their interests, skills, and plans for the future.”

Obama: ‘Take a job-driven approach’

Apprenticeships and employer-sponsored job training will prepare young people for middle-class jobs, President Obama said last week at a Pittsburgh community college.

Career-tech for all

At a high school in southern Georgia, career-tech ed is for everyone, writes James Fallows in The Atlantic. Camden County High School, located near a huge naval base, sends about 60 percent of graduates to postsecondary education or training.

In 2001, the graduation rate was only 50.5 percent. Now that is up to 85 percent. What happened?

CCHS was divided into six “academies.” After a year in Freshman Academy, all students choose one of the five career-tech academies. While they take the normal academic subjects, they also get an introduction to the world of work. Some will go from high school to the workforce or the military, but many will go to community college or to four-year colleges and universities. 

In the “law and justice” curriculum, which is part of the Government and Public Service Academy, a former Navy-Kings Bay NCIS official named Rich Gamble trains students in conducting mock crime investigations, and preparation for testimony in court.

On the day we were there, he had staged a mock robbery, in which the perp grabbed a cashbox from an office, ran through the hallways, and dumped the box as he was escaping. . . . Gamble divided his students into three teams to investigate the crime — making plaster casts of footprints (below), taking evidence, filing reports, preparing a case. “We emphasize a lot of writing,” he said. “I give them issues where they have to defend themselves, in very few words, because courts don’t like you to waste words.”

In the Engineering and Industrial Technology Academy, students design, build and sell small houses, do welding and electrical work and run an auto-repair shop that handles county vehicles.

In the Health and Environmental Sciences Academy, students were preparing for certification tests by administering care to dummies representing nursing-home patients.

Students also can choose Business and Marketing and Fine Arts.

Success relies on grit, Rachel Baldwin, the school’s career instructional specialist, tells Fallows. “I think you are more likely to learn grit in one of these technical classes. The plumber who has grit may turn out to be more entrepreneurial and successful than someone with an advanced degree.”

Biden: Give college credit for apprenticeships

 Giving college credit for apprenticeships will boost graduation rates and develop skilled workers, said Vice President Joe Biden at the American Association of Community Colleges’ annual convention.

States debate $0 community college tuition

Worried about a shortage of skilled workers, Tennessee, Oregon and Mississippi are debating free community college tuition. But some say students will work harder if they have a little “skin in the game.”

Employers: Grads aren’t ready to work

Eleven percent of business leaders strongly agree that today’s college graduates have the skills and competencies their companies need, according to a new Gallup/Lumina poll. Yet, in another Gallup survey, 96 percent of university officers believe that they’re effectively preparing students for success in the workplace.

“Something is very wrong when you see the academic leaders of higher education giving themselves an A+ on this while business leaders give them an F,” said Brandon Busteed, executive director of Gallup Education.

National Network, a business group, is working to design industry-specific job credentials that will help young people prove their competence.

Obama disses art history

Speaking at a General Electric plant in Wisconsin, President Obama said skilled manufacturing or the trades pays as well as an art history degree.

It was “a cheap shot at the favorite punching bag of people who deride higher education in general and the liberal arts in particular, writes Virginia Postrel.

“Almost no one majors in art history,”  she points out. Those who do are tackling “an intellectually demanding” and “famously elitist” major.

In fact, the reason pundits instinctively pick on art history is that it is seems effete. It’s stereotypically a field for prep school graduates, especially women, with plenty of family wealth to fall back on. In fact, a New York Times analysis of Census data shows that art history majors are wildly overrepresented among those in the top 1 percent of incomes. Perhaps the causality runs from art history to high incomes, but I doubt it.

If the president had been serious about his message, he would have compared learning a skilled trade to majors that are actually popular, such as communications and psychology. It would have been much braver and more serious to take on the less-rigorous majors that attract lots of students. But it wouldn’t have gotten a laugh.

Obama is promoting “job-driven training,” which means training for jobs that exist. That does sound like a good idea.

Vice President Joe Biden will lead a review of the many federal job training programs. The Government Accountability Office reviewed federal job training programs in 2011, but perhaps more have been created since then.

What jobs will the robots take?

The robots are coming to take our jobs, but which jobs will the robots take? Derek Thompson looks at the future of automation in The Atlantic.

. . . in the past 30 years, software and robots have thrived at replacing a particular kind of occupation: the average-wage, middle-skill, routine-heavy worker, especially in manufacturing and office admin.

Nearly half of American jobs today could be automated in “a decade or two,” according to a new paper discussed in The Economist. That includes retail, transportation, cashiers and counter clerks. (They’ll go even faster if the minimum wage is raised significantly.”

The 10 jobs on the chart have a 99-percent likelihood of being replaced by machines and software, writes Thompson. “They are mostly routine-based jobs (telemarketing, sewing) and work that can be solved by smart algorithms (tax preparation, data entry keyers, and insurance underwriters).”

The least vulnerable to automation are managers and health care and public safety workers.

Thompson concludes: “Machines are better at rules and routines; people are better at directing and diagnosing. But it doesn’t have to stay that way.”

For a cheerier view of the future, check out Are Robots Taking Our Jobs or Making Our Jobs?

Volokh’s Kenneth Anderson sees a future in skilled manual labor as in the “maker” movement.

Computer science majors get the most job offers, reports Forbes. Economics, accounting and engineering majors also are likely to have a job offer before they graduate.

Teaching entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurship should be “a general education outcome” for community college students, “like effective writing or quantitative reasoning,” some argue. “Better to train students to hang out their own shingles than to train them for jobs that no longer exist,” they believe.