Education is important to the economy. In most people’s minds, that translates to “get a degree, get a good job.” The problem is that the modern economy is one in which skilled labor is in higher demand than degrees in the humanities and other fields. It’s really always been that way, but over the last half a century or so, the idea of teaching high schoolers about trades instead of prepping them for college became a bad idea.
Before the 1950s, everybody who went to high school got a mix of academic education and vocational skills training. But eventually educators began to believe that kids who weren’t “college bound” should do trade classes and the other kids could focus on academics.
This doesn’t seem to have worked out well, as it apparently reinforced existing race and class discrimination, so we moved away from the divide and put all the energy into college prep. Unfortunately, college isn’t useful to everyone, not everyone goes, not everyone who goes graduates, and even those who do often end up in jobs that don’t require a college education. They end up spending a great deal of money to go to school and then have a hard time paying back loans. They subsequently have less spending power, and we all know how that works in a consumer economy.
As Nicholas Wyman writes in Forbes, “The ‘college-for-everyone’ mentality has pushed awareness of other possible career paths to the margins. The cost to the individuals and the economy as a whole is high. If we want everyone’s kid to succeed, we need to bring vocational education back to the core of high school learning.”
But if vocational skills training were still a thing—if kids in high school could learn skills that could help them get jobs right out of high school, good jobs in manufacturing or skilled trades, not service sector drudgery—they’d be off to a much better start.
Without vocational education, we wouldn’t have carpenters, HVAC technicians, plumbers, electricians, car and airplane mechanics, electricians, and all the other tradespeople who make life possible for the rest of us.
More successful young adults means a more stable economy, which means better profits, which ideally leads to more jobs. Vocational training helps everyone, even those who didn’t get any.