There isn’t a shortage of jobs in America as much as there is a shortage of skills needed by our employers. The so called "Great Recession" is only the current excuse for the number of individuals who are unable to find jobs and a cover for an education system that consistently misses the mark of providing our citizens with the skills they need to live the America Dream.
The current shortage of the right skills is the result of what Kenneth Gray in his book, "Other Ways to Win", the "One Way to Win Myth", which states that every high school student should aspire to go to college. This "One Way to Win Myth" has come to be believed by parents, is fed by the press and now the President.
The facts tell a different story. Fact: only 20% of the US population has completed a 4 year degree or higher. This has been true for many years. Fact: over 50% of high school graduates entering college end up dropping out.
We need to re-focus our efforts in education and address the real needs of our citizens and society.
It is also known that 50% or more of our students do best in schools of applied learning rather than purely academic, book-learning schools. Somewhere over the years applied learning, often called “vocational” learning, came to be associated with the less capable student who was not destined for college.
This means that 50% or more of our students are pushed to go to college where they may not get the right education that will enable them to earn a good living.
The startling facts of a typical group of 10 ninth graders are eye opening. Of this group:
3 will drop out of high school (33%!) – with poor prospects of anything but a very low level job with no future.
3 will graduate from high school with barely passing grades, will not pursue any postsecondary training and find a low paying job that doesn’t offer much future
3 others will graduate from high school and will go to college but 2 drop out before graduating and have a relatively large debt to repay. One will get a job in a field unrelated to his/her college major.
1 will graduate from high school, will get into college and will find a job in the field in which he/she studied.
Career schools fill a need that is not being addressed by the high schools, the community colleges or the 4 years colleges. The career schools do the best job of training adults who did not get the skills in high school and want to move up to better paying jobs. They also serve a high percentage of minorities, women and immigrants – primarily adults – better than any other institution.
The education and training provided by the career schools is focused on the skills needed by employers. The time to complete the training and its cost are less than any college program, even the state schools that receive heavy state and federal subsidies.
Career schools do not receive any state or federal subsidies and they are all tax paying organizations. New Hampshire has 104 Career Schools, in 2010 they educated 40,000 students and generated $54 million in business revenue. More importantly, the programs run by the career schools had a retention rate of over 70%, a completion rate of over 80% and a job placement rate that exceeded 75%. There is not a community college or 4 year college in the state that can claim this performance.
To those that allege that career schools are diploma mills or schools that provide a poor education, the proof of the career school performance is clear. If these schools were not producing quality graduates that employers want to hire, they would go out of business.
It is time we revisited the education options we present to our students. At least 50% of them should be pursuing applied and technical careers and the path to these well paying careers is through the career technical education programs in our high schools. The career schools have a role to play in re-training the adults who desire to change careers or want to upgrade their skills in their current career.
At the same time, our community colleges should be held accountable for the quality of the education they provide. They should be measured on the retention, graduation and placement of their students either in jobs or prepared for moving on to a 4 year college.
It is folly that we encourage “all” students to pursue a college degree. Over the next 10 years, according to the US Department of Labor, only 20% of the jobs created will require a 4 year college degree. There will be a severe shortage of individuals with technical skills if we do not address this mismatch.
To do the massive re-training job that is required to get our current worker skills up to date will require the participation and engagement of all levels of education, especially the career schools and colleges.