by Daniel L. Bennett
Campus leaders are apparently starting to get a bit of anxiety about the fact that 35 percent of facilities maintenance staff will be eligible for retirement in the next 5 to 7 years, according to a recent story in the Chronicle. The anxiety stems from the fact that there is a lack of qualified tradesmen in the pipeline to fill these roles as current employees begin to retire. The irony is that the same societal group which has contributed to the casting of tradespeople as somehow inferior to the college-educated bourgeois is now worried about who will maintain their facilities.
This attitude has propagated a decline in the number of people who seek training in the skilled trades, as parents have pushed their children into "higher" education for fear of embarrassment among their peers. A young man or woman who decides to become an electrician, plumber, mechanic, welder or hair stylist is not a failure. These workers are an integral part of our economy. The low supply of qualified workers in these fields has actually benefited those who chose to enter such fields, as they reap the rewards of high wages. A top notch mechanic surely earns more than a mediocre white collar manager, not to mention has greater job security and probably enjoys his work much more.
I strongly believe that pursuing a bachelor's degree has been the wrong choice for many young people and fear that the next generation will continue to follow this flawed trend that leaves many with cognitive dissonance about their educational choice, not to mention the mountain of debt to accompany it. The great social scientist Charles Murray would surely agree. Yet, the Obama Administration is convinced that more Americans need a college education. This is a misguided objective and a disservice to young people.
I concede that most Americans should have some post-secondary education, but it doesn't have to be in the liberal arts. Many young folks barely made it through a watered down high school curriculum and would be better served to learn a trade in a hands-on environment, such as that offered by the many career colleges in this country. By doing so, many people will increase their chances of achieving professional success and happiness in life, rather than being bogged down by student debt working in jobs they are not suited for or happy with. Not to mention the greater benefits to society of having more qualified skilled laborers to complete the tasks of the mechanically-challenged.
American society needs to de-stigmatize the notion that unless you go to college, you are a failure. Instead, it needs to embrace the fact that different people have different skills and each person and society is best served to pursue a vocation in which he/she has a comparative advantage.