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.”

Wal-Mart touts U.S. manufacturing jobs

A new Wal-Mart ad campaign is promoting manufacturing jobs and the company’s foundation is funding “middle skills’ job training at community colleges. “After decades of sending work overseas through ruthless price competition,” Wal-Mart is bringing jobs “back to America, by committing to purchase hundreds of billions of dollars more in U.S.-made goods,” reports the Washington Post.

College rah rah bah

“Millions of young people will never attend four-year colleges,” writes Sarah Carr in the Wilson Quarterly. “America must do more to equip them to secure good jobs and live fulfilling lives.”

From President Obama on down, “college for all” is seen as the solution to poverty, writes Carr. In New Orleans, the city of Carr’s book, Hope Against Hope, reformers created college-prep charter schools for low-income, black students.

At schools that have embraced the college-for-all aspiration, career and technical education is seen as being as outdated as chalkboards and cursive handwriting. Instead, the (mostly poor and mostly minority) students are endlessly drilled and prepped in the core humanities and sciences—lessons their (mostly middle- or upper-income and mostly white) teachers hope will enable the teenagers to rack up high scores on the ACT, SAT, and Advanced Placement exams and go on to attend the four-year college of their dreams (although it’s not always clear whose dreams we’re talking about).

Idealism should be tempered with pragmatism, Carr writes. Only one-third of low-income college students earn bachelor’s degrees by their mid-20s. Drop-outs may be thousands of dollars in debt.

A 2011 Harvard report, Pathways to Prosperity, described strong demand for “middle-skill” workers with vocational certificates or associate degrees. For example, electricians average $53,030, dental hygienists  $70,700 and construction managers $90,960, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“College for all” isn’t a smart state or national education policy, but can make sense as the mission of a single school, responds Michael Goldstein, founder of MATCH, a high-performing charter school in Boston.

In Boston, many traditional high schools describe themselves as college prep, but they’re sort of half-hearted about it. Few alums actually graduate from college. College rah-rah is absent. But so is career rah-rah. There is no rah-rah. I’m not sure how Carr thinks about such schools.

College is the dream of low-income black and Hispanic parents, Goldstein writes. When a large, open-admissions high school in Boston surveyed parents — mostly black or Hispanic single mothers without a degree — more than 80 percent wanted their son or daughter to go on to college.

I’m not sure I agree that educators in urban college prep charters, see career and technical education as “outdated.”

. . . I think more typically — there’s a perception that the vo-tech offerings themselves are terrible, with really bad track record of actually connecting kids to the right jobs, the air-conditioning repair jobs that Carr writes about.

Boston’s vo-tech high school is considered by far the worst public school in the city.

MATCH has considered launching an “excellent” vocational charter school, then measuring how graduates do in the job market, he writes.

I think everyone wants their kids to go to college because everyone thinks it’s the only way to get a good job. A high-quality school focused on qualifying graduates to train as electricians, mechanics, welders, dental hygienists, X-ray techs, etc. would be very popular.

Defaults exceed grad rates at 514 colleges

Loan default rates are higher than graduation rates at 514 colleges and universities nationwide, according to Education Sector. Nearly half of the “red flag” institutions are operated by for-profit colleges and about one-third are community colleges.

Skepticism is widening about projections of a widening job skills gap, but most think there’s a shortage of “middle-skills” workers with post-high school education and training but no bachelor’s degree.

‘Middle’ skills lead to middle-class jobs

Career technical education is “the missing middle ground in American education and workforce preparation,”  concludes a new report. There are 29 million jobs paying middle-class wages — $35,000 to $75,000 a year — that are open to workers with employer-based training, industry or college certifications, apprenticeships and associate degrees.

Students need to know there’s a third path to success that gets them much farther than a high school diploma and doesn’t require a bachelor’s degree, writes a community college president.