When I was growing up there wasn’t any doubt that I would go to college. A decent career was impossible without a solid education. Without an education, I wasn’t going to be able to afford anything or get a job with benefits like healthcare.
In the last year or so, brought on by article after article about student debt and how many people with advanced degrees who are now out of work or underemployed, I’m starting to think differently. College isn’t for everyone and it has nothing to do with how smart anyone is.
In our house, I went to CUNY (City University of New York) where I got a Bachelor’s degree. I work in an office so a degree is somewhat helpful in opening the door, although I don’t believe I use the knowledge my degree afforded me (mostly dead authors of the Victorian persuasion) to accomplish my work. Instead, I have developed a knowledge base through professional development and lots of reading and experimentation along the way.
Frank, on the other hand, went to a specialized post-secondary school for automotive mechanics. He got a job in his field even before he completed the program. He’s still happily working on cars, uses his knowledge every day, and makes a living doing so.
By all accounts, we’re successful (employed) but we took different paths. There is no one that can say my college education is worth more than his technical training just because I got a degree. And no one can say that everyone should go to college or more importantly, should have to go to college. And, with student debt ballooning out of control, a degree is fast becoming a luxury item.
But what are the alternatives?
Like Frank, a plumber or electrician doesn’t need a college degree. They need extensive training and specialized education along with an apprenticeship but they don’t need to go to college to get that.
Beyond careers of the hands-on nature, the rest must fight for low-paying service jobs and there is something very wrong with that.
The strongest workforce is one that is employed and productive but if you reduce the types of work to cater to a smaller percent of the population such as just those with a college eduation, you are going to end up with higher levels of unemployment and poverty and it has nothing to do with people’s desire to work.
This is plenty evident in Philadelphia. I quote from, “In ruins: How Philadelphia became the poorest big city in America” on philly.com:
“How did we get here? A big part of the story – although not the whole story, experts agree – is deindustrialization. With its prominence as America’s founding city, its central port location and proximity to coal and other early resources, the great Industrial Revolution of the 19th and 20th centuries came to Philadelphia early . . . and left Philadelphia early. A huge source of employment in neighborhoods such as Kensington was the textile industry, which started moving to the cheaper labor in the American South and was decimated in the Great Depression of the 1930s. Other factories – Philadelphia was once nicknamed “The World’s Workshop” because of its toolmaking – boarded up in the mid-20th century, although the impact was blunted for a time by massive military spending, especially at the Navy Yard in South Philly.”
The work left but the people remained making Philly a rather poor city. Did the people just decide to be lazy? No, the work they did abandoned them.
I propose the ideal working economy has work for every type of person:
- Jobs like doctor or lawyer which need a high level of education
- Office-type jobs you may or may not need a degree for and can learn as you go
- Technical jobs you need specialized education or apprenticeship for
- Service level jobs and the related supervisory structure (coffee shop, boutique, etc.), neither of which you should have to get a degree for
- Manufacturing jobs where you can learn on the job, higher level may need a degree but production line can be trained without one
- Civil service like firemen or police that can have on-the-job training and not necessarily a degree for entry level
Employment for a wide variety of people, educated to different degrees, accommodating those who can get a degree, can’t, or just want something different. To really re-think what work actually requires a degree.
And, if you’re not going to budge on every single job needing a degree, make public high school six years long and grant an associate degree (NYTimes “Pathways in Technology”).
Which brings me to the title of this post. Manufacturing needs to be brought back into this country to create more jobs. Things made in America utilize work being done by Americans. Everything you buy helps keep food on an American family’s table and a roof over their heads. This isn’t the easiest thing to do but it’s possible to at least try.
In Philadelphia we have so many empty factories that could be filled with workers. As consumers we need to do what we can to support this. Buy local and support local business when you can.