Up Front: We have a problem America
December 23, 2008
I was driving down the road and listening to the radio. Talk radio in particular; the topic was about education in America’s high schools and the sad state of affairs our educational system is in and how we have failed our young people in the last few decades. I agreed with the panel, but from the totally opposing point of view. The experts were noting through statistics that there has not been an appreciable increase in college graduates, particularly in lower income neighborhoods. They noted that more affluent areas maintained or even increased the number of high school graduates continuing to college and the lower income areas have failed to appreciably increase in college participation and the drop out rate from college was still too high. They all agreed that something had to be done to get all Americans into college. Here is where I disagreed with the panel. Why and who decided that every person in America must go to college in order to succeed? Why is not going to college considered a failure? Why do these elites continue to look at everyone who does not get a college degree as a failure in life?
The median income for a college graduate with a bachelor’s degree is $49,900 per year and the average median income for a high school graduate is $30,800. This chart is used to demonstrate the need to get a college degree. I never graduated college and I make a lot more than the average college graduate and so do all my friends who never went to college.
First and foremost, I am not encouraging anyone to revolt against higher education and certainly everyone should finish high school, but college is not for everyone and does not mean you cannot make very good money and it certainly should not be a stamp of failure. If a child shows a strong self-imposed desire to go to college and the aptitude, they should be supported to go to college and any government aid to help. But why push college on every child as the only way to succeed? Young people are made to feel as though they have failed life without a college degree and the public sentiment has seemingly drank the Kool-Aid and followed this mantra.
Many manufacturers have a policy -no degree, no interview. This happened to me. I knew I could do the job, but was never granted an interview. Ten years later, the regional vice-president was shocked to learn I tried to apply at his firm.
I believe the construction industry as a whole must go on a campaign to fight back this misguided ideology. I have seen the promotional videos from various trade groups and they are well done, but they would not have encouraged me to join the trades. I wanted more out of life and had the drive and ambition to reach high. I joined because my family owned a business and I knew this was a stepping stone. Trades people with ambition become foremen, superintendents, estimators, project managers and even owners of companies. Last time I researched the salaries on construction, a union journeyman averaged more than the college graduate. The average construction project manager made more than $100,000 a year with benefits. We need to regain our image, get the message out and attract the best and brightest who may not want to go to college. Many apprenticeship programs offer community college credit and allow you to go on to get a bachelors degree. For more information, go to www.buildingc3.com. There are links to national programs.
When I was in middle and high school, we had shop class that gave students a taste of the trade work. It was not thought of as a demeaning profession to be in the trades. Today, shop classes have been dropped from the schools’ curriculum. Why? I do not believe the funding excuse; we find money for new computers. This needs to change.
America at one time was built on the blue-collar ethic: learn a trade or skill, work hard and prosper. Many of the career advisors would say that is not enough in today’s world. I disagree. If you learn a trade, apply yourself, apply some ingenuity and pay attention to your attitude, you will prosper. This will be even more true in the future. Mark Breslin, author of Survival of the Fittest, correctly points out that the new generation that is about to hit the work force is not the hardened, tough baby boomers of the past. They are children that grew up getting a trophy for just showing up and have been overly pampered. If you are a young person today, your competition in the trades is going to be easier to compete with than your father’s generation. With this knowledge, young people should grab life and go. With or without college, you can’t help but to succeed with hard work and the right attitude. W&C