In the classic 1960s movie The Graduate, a family friend offers Dustin Hoffman, the recent graduate, one word of advice: “plastics.”
My advice for today’s high school graduates: “learn a trade.”
Unfortunately, there’s a historic stigma about “voc-ed,” the result of snobbery toward certain occupations.
Yes, there’s also the shameful practice of tracking low-income whites and people of color into blue-collar jobs while encouraging wealthier white students to attend college. But now there are millions of rewarding, high-paying trade jobs sitting empty.
Instead of training for those, tens of millions of high school graduates are on college autopilot, loading up an average of $37,000 in debt, and graduating without any practical skills.
Not only is our economy suffering for lack of skilled workers, but also a huge number of workers are unhappy and earning below their financial potential.
There are legions of depressed Dilberts out there in cubicle land, sitting in front of computer screens, wondering who will be laid off next. And there are millions of young people sitting in college classrooms dreaming of being somewhere else.
Put these same people in an apprenticeship with a skilled adult and they’ll thrive. Instead of wasting their intelligence in an office, they could deploy it in a bicycle or auto repair garage, woodworking shop, or on a farm or construction site.
Princeton economist Alan Blinder says the job market of the future won’t be divided between people with college degrees and those without, but between work that can be outsourced and work that can’t. “You can’t hammer a nail over the internet,” he observed. “Nor can you fix a car transmission, rewire a house, install solar panels, or give a patient an injection.”