Mike Rowe, Vocational Education, And America’s Massive Skills Gap

He hasn’t even taken the oath of office yet, but Donald Trump is already hard at work saving American manufacturing and promising to keep and bring even more. That’s a good thing for America and Americans, but it does present a question only those of us who struggle to recruit and hire people for a living can really adequately understand – Where the heck are the people going to come from?

We’re told everyone is supposed to have a 4-year college education to succeed in today’s economy, and yet 44 percent of college graduates are unemployed and a vast chasm STILL exists between willing workers and the jobs we NEED to fill in this country.

Sure, welfare needs to be reformed and wages need to go up, and they likely will, but there is still a massive skills gap in our country that can’t be addressed with breathing bodies on the line. No, what America really needs is a true revival of vocational education, starting at the high school level.

Appearing on “Tucker Carlson Tonight” earlier this month, former “Dirty Jobs” host Mike Rowe lent a healthy dose of common sense to America’s current skills gap and our sad post-high school education predicament. Turns out, our soon-to-be burgeoning economy needs far more carpenters, plumbers, and HVAC techs than we do liberal arts flag burners, PC-police, and safe-space snowflakes.

Go figure.

And yet, everyone seems to think the only post-high school success comes from a 4-year college degree. In pointing out the prevailing view in America, Carlson stated out the shock-to-no-one fact that the students out there burning flags didn’t exactly attend HVAC trade schools.

So, does EVERYONE really need a 4-year college education? Even those who are interested in other things? Even those who, for whatever reasons, can’t adequately do the coursework?

In an October article for The Atlantic entitled “The Need To Validate Vocational Interests,” teaching veteran Ashley Lamb-Sinclair laments students with vocational interests who are essentially herded by societal expectations into 4-year degree colleges, emerging with little more than broken dreams and crushing student loan debt.

“A couple of years ago, a mother broke down crying during a parent-teacher conference when we were speaking about her son because she was frustrated that all he wanted to do was fish. He didn’t care about school. He had no desire to go to college. She said she just kept telling him if he went to college and got a good job, then he could fish all he wanted on the weekends. I had taught the student for two years and knew him well. I saw his face in my mind as the mother spoke; I saw him with his head down in the back of class. I imagined what it must feel like to walk around all the time in a world that views your greatest passion, the one thing you truly love and are good at, as a weekend hobby. I said to the mother, ‘What if you change the conversation? What would happen if you start talking to him about what a career as a fisherman would look like and what it would take to accomplish it?’ And she must have seen his face in her mind, too, because she said, ‘Yeah, you’re right.’ She went home that day and, she later told me, had that conversation. His grades didn’t go up, nor did he suddenly love school, but he did engage more in class and seemed happier overall. And he told me proudly when the year ended that he was going to be a fisherman.”

It could be a fisherman, or a plumber, or a carpenter, or an HVAC tech – but we need them all and the fact is we aren’t getting enough of them. College may be all the rage, but a Gallup poll suggests that only 14 percent of Americans, and 11 percent of business leaders, actually believe that college prepares students for workplace success. Contrast this with the 96 percent of college chief academics officers who are absolutely sure they are adequately preparing students for life in the big bad world, and you’ll begin to see the problem.

Rowe explains that the 40 year repetition of this mantra, particularly by politicians, eventually caused everyone to believe it.

“We start to believe that the best path for the most people happens to be the most expensive path,” Rowe said. “And it also happens to be the path that has led to a skills gap of about 5.8 million positions and student loans of about 1.3 trillion and sooner or later somebody’s got to throw the flag, so to speak, and say, maybe there’s another way.”

Sure, many may truly want to learn a particular trade, but what of those who don’t, but still aren’t a good fit for college?

In response to Carlson’s question about attitudes that prevent young people from finding success and happiness, Rowe said, “I think its this idea that there’s a dream job out there. We’re told from the very beginning that if you want to be happy then you have to do the thing that will make you happy. And so we embark on this quest for happiness that has everything to with attaining that which we’ve previously determined will cause bliss, right? It’s sort of like looking for your soul mate instead of trying to find happiness in your zip code. We just make it so hard.”

The lesson Rowe learned was one that would greatly benefit every teen and twenty-something that has yet to find their way. “If you chase the opportunities that are there and then figure out a way to be good at them, and then figure out a way to love them, you’ll be amazed at how stuff lines up.”

It may seem like drudgery, but “meaningful work is very different from drudgery,” and countless people have prospered by becoming good at providing a service to others that happens to be of ever-increasing value.

These days, when countless employers are literally begging for applicants with the right skills, Rowes words of wisdom are just the reality check young people needs these days.

As for that 4-year degree?

“It’s either worth it or its not,” Rowe said. “You either can afford it or you cant. And we’re either helping to subsidize it or we aren’t. Well we are. I feel like we ought to have a conversation about – forgive me, I know this rankles people – but its a return on our investment. That 1.3 trillion dollars is not falling out of the air.”

But hey, at least these kids are getting a good, sound dose of liberal, Marxist indoctrination!

Lamb-Sinclair concludes her article with what would be a call for reviving vocational education in America’s high schools:

“And why should students drag their feet through traditional school before they get the chance to do what they love? Integrating validating experiences into high school rather than hoping that universities will provide them down the road gives opportunities for students who feel ignored, disengaged, and disregarded to recognize the virtue of their talents and pursue them happily and with pride.”


This article originally appeared on Staffing Talk.