Wednesday, September 30, 2009

We Need Truck Drivers Too: Michael Bettersworth's Lament

By Richard Vedder

I am getting tired of going to higher education conferences where rent-seeking college professors lament that America will need millions of new college graduates to take all of the new jobs being created that require high skills. The arguments have been overdone and exaggerated. If, for example, we had a real shortage of skilled people in the STEM disciplines, we should see sharp increases in the relative pay in engineers, scientists, and mathematicians. We have not.

Not only that,we need a lot of fairly skilled persons who do not receive all the necessary training in high school, but who can get those skills at technical or career colleges. I attended a delightful one day forum on higher education put on by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in San Antonio over the weekend. Unlike most meetings on higher ed, the sessions were not lovefests where overpaid college administrators kept telling other overpaid persons how great they are and how they need more money.

I enjoyed several speakers, including Michael Bettersworth, an administrator at Texas State Technical College. Michael --a sharp articulate guy who may be going places -- made the point that psychology graduates are having a terrible time getting jobs, often ending up delivering pizzas. One of my very best students from last year is working at Ruby Tuesday. But those becoming electricians and plumbers and truck drivers, etc., seem to be doing a bit better.

Most of the occupations expected to require the most new employees over the next decade are NOT jobs requiring high levels of technical skills. I think there is a fundamental mismatch developing between the number of college graduates and the employment needs of employers, so the college educated pizza delivery boy may be more than a temporary phenomenon. This is still another reason I am high on many of the non-traditional schools that offer non-degree forms of post secondary training.


AntonyKunn said...

There are a lot of good reasons being a truck driver, everyone should try it too!

Truck Rental

Amallama said...


The point is that simply having a college degree is not enough to find a job. This is especially true in today's job market. Having the right competencies is the key to marketability and earnings, not the level of education. In other words, it's not that you study but what you study that makes the difference.

From a policy perspective, colleges are rewarded for enrollment and graduation (butts in seats), yet placement rates and earnings are more substantive success indicators. Degrees increasingly matter less, competencies are the new currency, and student success is about much more than enrollment or graduation. It's about getting a J.O.B.

In order to retrain the unemployed, underemployed and returning veterans, higher education must be able to quickly validate existing skills, identify what additional competencies are needed and fill those gaps with customized learning solutions aligned with high-demand and high-skill occupations at premium wages. The measure of success is a paycheck and employer satisfaction, not just parchment and a tassel.

The Gainful Employment freak out was a clear shot across the bow. The same scrutiny will beset public higher education soon enough as economic woes continue to rake state and federal budgets, and as the cost of higher ed continues to increase faster than healthcare, and as more and more grads find themselves moving back home with mom and dad (estimated at 80% of 2009 class). That's going to sting a lot of people. Get ready.

For the record, my talk referenced above actually did not include any mention of truck drivers. However, some people do live for the open road, early mornings, strong coffee, wheels and Willy. Also, some drivers make $100,000 a year.

Kind Regards,
Michael Bettersworth