If President Trump is serious about fulfilling his campaign promise to revive manufacturing and skills-based jobs, he should look no further than Sens. Tim Scott and Marco Rubio. Both men have been working hard to revive occupational education.
As the star of “The Apprentice,” our president clearly understands the promise of on-the-job training. Now he can bring that same thinking to the White House by working with Congress to see this through.
Jobs and training, of course, were major themes of the 2016 campaign as questions of economic opportunity and a skills gap between current job openings and American workers emerged. While U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) would often point out that the United States has greater economic inequality, he failed to acknowledge that the United States trails many European nations in training young people for skilled work.
This hurts the life trajectories of Americans from disadvantaged backgrounds. Research from Harvard University shows that only 2 percent of U.S. high school students concentrate in vocational educational programs, compared with some 50 percent in Europe’s most economically competitive nations.
In Austria, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway and Switzerland, between 40 and 70 percent of high school students choose an educational program comprised of a hybrid of academic instruction and real-world apprenticeships. Many young Europeans finish high school with the equivalent of a technical degree from an American community college. The doorway to more advanced, traditional academic schooling is open if they desire. But should they choose another pathway, they have a basic skills floor to build upon and monetize immediately. The key is that the training is a floor and not a ceiling.
“It’s about time to bring them in from out of the cold,” economist Robert Cherry of Brooklyn College–City University of New York said of for-profit schools at an American Enterprise Institute discussion on empowering African-American men.
Cherry reinforced the truth that for-profit associate and occupational programs don’t preclude advancement into traditional four-year college programs. They are “stackable,” as author Nicholas Wyman argues in his book “Job U: How to Find Wealth and Success by Developing the Skills Companies Actually Need.”
Alternatives to the cookie-cutter academic pathways are something that Betsy DeVos, President Trump’s pick for education secretary, has a solid track record of supporting. While federal action can have big impact, change must also happen at the local level. OZY recently reported on leading educators — cutting-edge trends and big ideas reimagining secondary education — are disrupting the inequality trap.
“Research on classroom design has long touted the benefits of flexible learning spaces: Ever-changing surroundings keep students more engaged, spur creativity and motivation and, yes, improve grades,” wrote OZY reporter Leslie Nguyen-Okwu. “Couple that fact with another study from the University of Salford, in England, which found that the classroom environment can affect a child’s academic progress over a year by as much as 25 percent — for better or worse.”
Ashley Carter, recently elected as the sole Republican on Washington D.C.’s Board of Education, told Opportunity Lives that a key priority for her is providing more resources for career and technical education (CTE).
“One of the ways to raise the graduation rate and bring more prosperity to the DC job sector is adding more career and technical educational resource options into the school system,” Carter said.
Not only would options such as CTE allow for students to get well-paying jobs directly out of high school without the high cost of student loan debt, they would also help to get more area businesses more invested in our community.
“We want students to be career ready when they graduate, not just college ready,” Carter said. “With more students taking a gap year (like President Obama’s daughter) we need to make sure our students see a path into adulthood that is upwardly mobile whether that is college or career.”
Photo by Gage Skidmore