Machinists, robotic specialists, metallic engineer, these “majors” weren’t offered in my undergrad catalog at the University of Colorado. Instead, I chose marketing, followed by sociology, then switched to psychology, and later settled on the job friendly, anthropology. I then spent the next 8 years of my life and close to $100,000 later in grad school reinventing myself to become more marketable. Not your blueprint for springboarding into the labor market, but then again, who really follows labor trends when they’re 18 anyways.
Well, Germans for one, sort of do which is why their culture of apprenticeships has been so successful that the U.S. (as well as many other countries, Chile for one, where I live, is bringing in Germans to establish their system here) is finally starting to catch on. Volkswagen, at their Chattanooga, Tennessee plant, are graduating their first class of apprentices next year. Throughout the U.S. there are an estimated 600,000 skilled, manufacturing jobs outstanding as millions search for work. The Germans learned long ago that is it much easier to create your own workforce than depend on the whims of 18-22 year olds who more than likely would never major in anything productive if left to their own devices.
The crux of all this is not everyone is destined to obtain a 4 year degree, nor should they. This has nothing to do with intelligence, but rather everything to do with innate, natural skills and interests. I knew plenty of kids who were simply awesome with their hands. Could make and fix anything. But growing up in the U.S. you’re considered some sort of pariah if you don’t pursue a 4 year degree even if it is in Egyptian Sanscrit and you’ll be waiting tables at Applebees for the next 10 years trying to break into a museum someday to apply those skills.
In Germany alone close to two-thirds of the country’s workers pass through apprenticeship programs. And these folks, socially in German society, are not looked down upon as some kind of blue collar lackey, they are respected as being part of a famed German manufacturing sector that is world-renowned and prideful to the core. Sort of like teachers in South Korea and Finland, which is why their primary and secondary schools rule and ours don’t.
Like apprenticeships, certificates, not to be confused with an industry-based certification (like that from Microsoft or Cisco) are usually two-year degrees at a vocational, technical or trade school. These too are thankfully growing in popularity as well and encompass fields like auto mechanics, refrigeration, metalworking, drafting, aviation, agriculture and forestry, computer and information systems, health care, among others. Tennessee, as with Volkswagen, leads the nation in certificate programs. Over 70% of students enrolled in certificate programs complete said curriculum compared to 13% at a community college.
It is time to stop the wholesale push of every kid to a 4 year college and start equipping counselors in junior and high-schools with the training and knowledge necessary to spot other talents in kids that might serve them better in trade and vocational schools. There are plenty of highly skilled machinists, carpenters, plumbers, etc. making well over $100,000 a year because they’re good and the skill is highly valued. Shouldn’t that be the goal at the end of the day, maximized potential?