College doesn’t have to be for everyone; education does.

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There seems to be an ever increasing amount of talk in media sources that the future of the work force and the future of the economy lies in technology. As someone who is employed at a university which specializes in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), I certainly can attest that the students graduating with degrees in these fields are very employable. What that truth overlooks though are several other truths: not everyone excels in these fields; one does not need to excel in these fields to be employable. In fact, not everyone has a learning style or capacity that is well suited to four/five year university degrees. There is more than one way for a person to become educated to do work and not all that education needs to take place in a university.

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Skilled tradespeople, technical degrees that take months or several years vs. four+ years, and manufacturing jobs all continue to provide employment opportunities for people. Not everyone is interested in, or may not be well suited to longer study periods of the four to six years necessary to obtain a degree in the STEM fields and these people should be encouraged to look into other opportunities that do still exist for employment.

Ro Khanna’s, “Five Myths about Manufacturing Jobs” which appeared in the Washington Post on 2-15-13 points out that despite the talk about China being the new source of all things manufactured, the U.S. continues to produce 1/5 of the world’s manufactured goods – the same amount as China. Khanna argues that manufacturing and service jobs continue to be large employers in the U.S. and that the service sector will see the largest growth in the near future.

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There have also been concerns being [under]reported since at least 2007 (Virginia Manufacturers Association; Manpower, Talent Shortage 2011 Survey Results) that a short fall of people in the skilled trades – such as welding, tool setting and operating, machine maintenance specialists – is slowing down economic growth as demand for these skilled tradespeople outstrips supply. The Virginia Manufacturers report for example, states that the statewide need was being met by “only 44 percent.”  A 66% shortfall of needed workers, trained in skilled trades.

Everyone with the capacity to learn should have the opportunity to become educated to work. The best education for working though has to be dependent on an individual’s learning interests and capacities. Those who have an aptitude for a STEM education ought to have that option; we should as a society though, continue to value and provide opportunities for people to become skilled in trades that support the manufacturing we continue to do and recognize that the service sector continues to be vital to the way our society functions. [There is a separate argument/concern that service sector jobs may not pay well enough to support a family – as a society dependent on service sector jobs to support lifestyles we enjoy, this certainly seems to be another issue we ought to be addressing.]

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