Have these two factors helped cause a job-skills shortage?

No longer on students' radar?
  1. Listen Manufacturing Jobs

    A chat between Stephen Smith and Emily Hanford

Here’s an American RadioWorks podcast on manufacturing jobs that gets into the “jobs-skills mismatch” argument a little. (Note: Click on the “Download” link if it doesn’t play on my blog.)

It got me thinking:

Has something indeed changed that has caused a drop in the number of workers who are skilled enough to enter those unfilled jobs?

Consider this:

The main argument from skeptics seems to be: You’ll find plenty of qualified workers if you either pay enough to attract those with the right skills, or take those who don’t quite have the skills and train them.

Fair enough. But I wonder:

Do enough of today’s high-schoolers and young people know about such job opportunities and what it takes to get them?

The go-getters at universities tend to be bright enough to research careers and navigate their way through pre-med and pre-law programs, for example. They find out on their own about how to get into Microsoft, Google or the local nonprofit.

But what about those — and there are a vast many — who aren’t so career-oriented?

Do they know that technical job XYZ at Minnesota Acme Company pays well and requires just a two-year degree or certificate? Would they research? Could they research? Want ads are a different beast nowadays.

(And did they ever research the job market decades ago? Or did they enter the trades because they saw a want ad or because it was just the thing to do in their families?)

There’s an argument going around that high-school students today simply aren’t exposed to the trades the way they used to be.

Why?

  • Stigma. I remember thinking during my days covering K-12 back in 1999-2004, no one in high school spoke of vocational education. It was all about getting a four-year degree. I hear that’s still a problem, and that a lot of high-school counselors steer kids away from vo-tech education. Some execs I’ve talked to have noticed that as well.
  • The demise of shop. Businesspeople here have complained that high schools have shrunk or closed their shop courses, either because of lack of money or a shift in educational mission, or both. Indeed, I haven’t seen many traces of shop in my school visits.

So have we as a society, over the past generation or two, taken vocational education and skilled manufacturing jobs off the radar of most students? Are some of those jobs going unfilled because the right students just don’t know about them?

Just some thoughts.