Today, many citizens believe that a four-year college degree is the only path to home ownership, financial stability and happiness. Dissection of this stereotype reveals that this is not only a recent trend, it may be a misguided one. The idea that good jobs are only attainable with a degree starts with the definition of a “good job.”
There used to be a great show called Dirty Jobs on the Discovery Channel. Each week host Mike Rowe would bravely venture to a new location in the United States and spend a day doing a “dirty job” with a skilled worker.
Rowe now campaigns throughout the U.S. educating folks about the skills gap—the ever-lowering number of people joining the “skilled” job market in America. The idea that a degree is better than a skill or trade has unfortunately led to a decline in aspirations to acquire said skills.
What may surprise you are the numbers. Unemployment was estimated in February this year to effect 7.5 million people. Yet, according to the Department of Labor, America currently has 5.6 million job openings.
Rowe would tell you, “the overall labor participation rate is very low, and the skills gap is wider than ever…most of those 5.6 million opportunities don’t require a diploma—they require a skill.” These jobs are hardly unattainable either—many will pay you to train for them, pay high above the median earnings and the majority aren’t even “dirty” jobs.
Nothing against the higher education institutions like the one that is currently providing me the credentials for my future employment, but not all the statistics are heartening. Outstanding student debt accounts for $1.3 trillion, and many metrics will tell you that universities now offer a disproportionate number of degrees that are not catered to an existing position in the workforce.
You can pay for a degree, but there’s no job guarantee…
“As long as Americans remain addicted to affordable electricity, smooth roads, indoor plumbing and climate control, the opportunities in the skilled trades will never go away. They’ll never be outsourced. And those properly trained will always have the opportunity to expand their trade into a small business,” Rowe said.
The idea that hard work is not bad work speaks to the purpose of the American experiment; realizing some Seattle trash collectors make upwards of $100,000 speaks to our ignorance of these opportunities.
All this to say, maybe we shouldn’t overlook a huge sector of attainable opportunities in favor of an idealized system. America was founded on the idea that a “good job” is a job that pays the bills, not one adds to them.
As Adam Smith wrote, “It was not by gold or by silver, but by labor, that all the wealth of the world was originally purchased.”
-Chris Salsbury, Copy Chief