I would simplify it and say that learning trade skills is a better investment for most people than attending a 4-year college. Trade skills can be learned at a young age, right from home, where there is room and time to explore and enjoy the learning process. Why we wait until after high school to teach kids in-demand skills boggles my mind. All the pressure in the world arrives after high school. It's time to start paying the bills and to grow up. It's no wonder most kids go off to college because they have zero marketable skills upon hs graduation and college is a way to get an extra 4 years to acquire some skills.
The sad part of that is all the kids that get caught up in the college wave. They get pressured to go to a 4 year school, take on a mountain of debt for a degree (if they are fortunate to graduate) they most likely won't use. So many students would be better off exploring the different trades and finding one that they really enjoy. There are hundreds of them.
I've been working on a project lately to help people explore and learn the trades online. Tradeskills.io It started as a side project for me a number of years ago teaching people how to get into the appliance repair trade. I've had over 600 students all across the country and Canada go through my training. The trades can be learned online and I think tech will need to play a big part in this area of education in the coming years.
I wish I'd taken my step-dad up on his offer and done an chippy apprenticeship when I was 17.
Instead I flailed around, did some c programming, some web development, never went to uni. I even managed to get myself that first job as a software dev, slowly trading upwards, but it always worked against me that I was a high school drop out and had no degree.
Later in life, I looked upon the lack of degree as an asset, I worked harder than the guys/girls who did have a comp/sci degree, because I felt I had to prove myself constantly, to out-do those with a degree.
But I always look back and think, man, I wish I'd just done a carpentry apprenticeship. It's not like the systems change underneath you ever few years, that you have to learn a new "circular-saw" to help you cut timber because everyone is using it, even though the job you're working on, you could get away with a regular hand-saw. The analogy is shit, but you get what I mean.
Any friends/family who ever say "I'm thinking of being a plumber/sparky/chippy" I wholly encourage them.
I reacted strongly and positively to the headline of this piece...and even more positively to the article.
Apprenticeship was once considered more important than academic degrees in many areas. The balance has gone too far towards academia, and blue collar 'workers' don't get nearly enough respect IMO
I sometimes think, with deep regret, that most people living at or below the poverty line at 30, their chances of rising above that are quite low. At 40+ it's next to zero. This may also be very generous. The amount of education, training, and opportunities would have to line up perfectly for someone to pull themselves up. Multigenerational, the odds appear much better.
> "There are too many four-year colleges serving too many students,
The Screwing of the Average Man  said that college used to be something the upper-class sent their children to so they'd have a leg up on the "uneducated" masses. Then the congress provided the GI Bill to subsidize college for WWII veterans. This kept disgruntled veterans occupied while the economy retooled to peacetime production. Thus began the college price spiral.
My great-grandmother played prohibition well, and sent all 4 of her children to teh college during the great depression. After WWII, the one grandfather didn't need any more college degrees and used the GI Bill to learn to fly small planes. My other grandfather had no interest in any college, so he didn't utilize his tuition credits... He certainly would've done better financially if he had...
The only class I enjoyed in my public school experience was my 8th grade "technology" class. This semester was broken up into woodshop, welding/metal working, "computers", photography, and (don't remember). 45 minutes of appreciated learnings, 5 days a week, for one semester. Everything else was busy work. I learned a few things, here and there, but not enough to justify the countless hours of boredom.
College was kind of a scam. I have an expensive diploma that doesn't mean anything. I learned a few things, here and there, but not enough to justify the $100k+ spent on my behalf.
John Gatto  says it's better to skip as much of the early years of schooling as possible: some children learn to read when they're 2, some when they're 8, and by the time they're 12 you can't tell the difference. I met a man a few months ago that was traumatized by not being able to "read" on the teacher's schedule when he was in 1st grade. He learned to read eventually, in spite of his school's efforts to force him to read before he was ready.
Allowing young children to have experiences in the real world instead of more classroom time would be much more valuable than giving young adults a choice of a trade school vs. more academics at age 18.
Remove the social stigma of not going to college. Hardly any tv shows that show young non college grads as positive.
I attended a 2 year vocational program for CIS in High School. It was heavily focused on passing the CCNA exam but I spent most of my time working running the class websites and learning the ins and outs of the LAMP stack. I had unlimited access to industry standard equipment and the freedom to break things without the risk of getting fired. It provided me with a solid foundation of networking and infrastructure fundamentals.
I passed on going to college due to getting an incredible co-op. I'm quite fortunate that my lack of a college degree has yet to limit my career. I give back by volunteering and providing co-op positions for the students of the program.
High School students are pushed to go straight to college and get a degree even when they're not 100% sure what they enjoy doing. They're not often provided with information about alternatives like attending a vocational program.
Isn't Germany, one of the more booming economies of Europe, a place that promotes the trades and provides educational tracks for interested students to easily get into apprenticeship programs? And where there isn't stigma against entering such a field?
Another idea, indirectly related, is to simply stop treating all university degrees equally.
The whole reason student loans are so broken right now is because they cannot be dismissed, so lenders are incentivized to lend with reckless abandon. In the worst case scenario the loan converts into a lifetime rent on an individual that automatically adjusts for inflation. On the other hand, the idea behind creating special rules for student loans is easy to see. By removing any risk in lending, that 'reckless abandon in lending' removes any real up front financial barrier to education and investing in your society's education is as good as investing in your society.
The problem here is people are then using this to get degrees that are more recreational than productive. In high school kids are taught that the key to a good life is to get a college degree. And so many people, who are otherwise unmotivated or unambitious, simply choose easy and interesting degrees. The 'soft' degrees absolutely have a purpose, but a person coming from no means choosing to major in a soft degree is not going to meaningfully change their expected earnings. All they're going to do is remain a person of no means who is now also deep in debt that can never be dismissed.
So the idea is to maintain the current system, but restrict lending just to degrees that are statistically likely to 'substantially' effect a student's expected earnings. When you remove the illusion of 'any degree is fine' you start to bring the connection between education and earnings back to reality. And you also push students towards a path of greater capability which is not only good for themselves, but also for the nation as a whole.
I think there may be value in society providing some kind of fusion of these two things at universities. University has become a sort of coming of age ritual for young people, when they can manage to go. Craftsmanship and trades skills are certainly solid ways to support yourself, especially when paired with a decent, democratic union, but I cant help but feel that theres something about a college experience that is hugely beneficial to people. Even just the interpersonal relations you experience at university are deeply influential.
Maybe we could have universities run more traditionally trade school type programs as well as liberal arts, stem, art, and music curriculums? That way the philosophy students have the opportunity to take a class in engine repair and the students in the electrician's school can likewise take a class in Computer Aided Design or Astronomy Lab.
Trade school is a great thing for the right number of motivated and capable students.
The problem is that the market can only take so many plumbers, electricians and tin-knockers before their pay falls off a cliff. I expect that this would occur long before the wage gap is actually closed. Moreover many trades are still unionized and resistant to new entrants.
I think that schools should focus more on getting the basics right. Most of us here on HN have enjoyed a priviledged journey through good to elite schooling. The sad reality is that in large swathes of the country high school education has become a shit-show with reprecussions that will last decades.
While it is good to continue to offer votech programs, I think that schools should just make literacy a priority. If you think that's 'aiming low' you haven't seen what goes on in schools today.
One of my sisters and I both attended trade school and were quickly happily employed.
My other sister went for a psychology major and has since worked service jobs.
I went to a small trade school for "Application Development" circa 2005 that has since gone under.
They really got an undeserved bad rap, like a lot of for profit schools lately. I genuinely feel I received a quality education readying me for working in the industry. I had what I would consider some of the best educators of my life and lots of one on one time with them.
I know a handful of my classmates didn't really take it very seriously and the army was paying for them to be there, but honestly it's lead me into a career I enjoy and allowed me to earn more than I ever imagined.
This seems rather odd to me. The article hammers on about manufacturing jobs while it has been reported that manufacturing ethos in other countries is better than the USA making it a really bad choice to manufacture there. It costs more, and you get less.
At the same time, this seems to be suggesting that anyone could be doing a trade school type of education instead of college, while to me it seems that is is the lower entry into any form of education. If college equals trade school, then college in the USA needs to up it's game.
Learning a trade is only useful up to a point. As others have posted, there is no point in having 100 million machinists all being very capable of re-manufacturing tower crane gearboxes. Even a million would not make any sense. There is also a limit to what you can do with your time. While you don't need to be a millionaire to be happy, the limit to what you can earn is comparatively low when you are working at the practical side of things vs. what steering/planning/administrating and up can earn.
This does not mean that trade school is by definition 'stupid' and if you don't go to college or university (or is that the same in the USA?) you are therefore not smart, but it does limit your capabilities, at least in terms of growth. Now, if you are comfortable with a trade, if it gets you what you want, there would be no point in going to college. At the same time, if college is too hard, and learning beyond basic literacy and mathematics is not an option, you might be stuck at trade level.
One of the bigger problems with 'trade' or 'labour' type of skill is that it often is very limited in abstracted transferrable knowlegde. What if the way some thing are done are replaced. Say you are very good at cleaning chimneys, that's great, but nobody needs your skills. Or what if you are very good at shining shoes. Or driving horse carriages. Or digging holes and putting down outhouses. This is the same for most of the current trade type of work, it is only useful as long as people need you, and when they don't you can't really go do something else because you don't have the theory behind what you were doing to re-implement it somewhere else.
I believe that nowadays - at least in developed countries - you can have a stable income way above average as a tradesman. The shortage of reliable people in these areas is unbelieavable. As an anecdote I knew a self-employed poolboy that before crisis was earning more than most managers.
According my experience (I used to help my father during work peaks) I think that we arrived here because ALL talent is nowadays directed to academia. To complicate the situation this is not easily undone, once people get used to be intellectually challenged they see trades as a terribly boring job. And don't forget the stigma..
As is often the case, the answer is built into how the question is framed:
If we frame the question as, 'what is the most efficient way to train people with directly salable skills', then college is inefficient and probably not the best solution.
But if the question is, 'how do we best prepare people for life, including critical thinking and knowledge about the world, and to improve our society', college blows away any trade school. Four years spent studying the leading thinkers, thinking, and critical approaches in a diverse array of fields, tutored by leading experts, is an incredible way to sharpen your mind, knowledge, and critical thought. Also, as most in IT realize, learning specific skills in IT is far less valuable over the long run than learning theory which then can be applied even as technology changes. Consider the liberal arts as the 'theory' of other fields.
Many people on one hand bemoan the political situation, the ignorance, and the inability to discern propaganda from fact; while on the other hand they dismiss liberal arts as useless. The latter has developed, almost precisely, as the solution to the former. Society doesn't just work; we need to advance it, which requires understanding the world, its problems and their solutions. These are very hard problems, and learning Java or physics won't solve them.
> Researchers are investigating how the United States can become more competitive in the manufacturing industry in the age of artificial intelligence.
> Manufacturing employment has fallen in both countries, yet in Germany, manufacturing's value added has stayed around 22 percent in the last 20 years.
So Germany has done well even before the age of AI. But are they well prepared for the AI disruption?
Because currently the article seems to be relying on past data from Germany to predict a future solution.
It should be pretty obvious to anyone who has ever been to college that the model there isn't exactly one of "efficiency." My first two years were a good time, but if you're a 45-year-old man trying to get skilled as quickly as possible to put food on the table, taking three credits of Shakespeare just seems silly (and I absolutely adore Shakespeare). Not to mention the fact that the notion that you should decide what you want to do for the rest of your life when you're 18 and have never worked or experienced a job market just seems completely insane to me.
The fact of the matter is we're going to need widespread adult re-education, and the current four-years-at-18 model is woefully inadequate for the future that we can all see coming. In fact, the future that's here. Why can't I be prepared for a job in 6 months or one year? Can I take just the part of a college education that helps me be skilled?
IMO the blue collar jobs of the future will be many of the white collar jobs of today. I actually include "coding" in that. Relatively simple programming is something most people can learn to do relatively quickly, provides immediate value, and has rising demand (even the code bootcamps flooding the market still, somehow, leave huge gaps).
My company, Lambda School, (shameless plug, I suppose - YC S17 https://lambdaschool.com) is trying to solve some tiny portion of that by providing a live, online, skills-based education and job placement program that's completely free until you get a job. Soon it will be available entirely after hours. We've literally seen students go from applying at McDonalds to six-figure job offers; not because we're the best teachers in the world, but because they were already smart enough to become that person, they'd just never been given that opportunity, and for very practical reasons four years of college and expensive student loans were out of the question.
But we're still relatively expensive, still at the higher-skill-level-but-more-difficult end, and we can only cover a tiny portion of the market. In the next 10 years I hope there will be a booming industry of college alternatives that can get people placed, so long as they're not crushed by licensing and regulation (neither of which I think are a bad thing in proper amounts).
If you can move people from unemployed or minimum wage to regular living wage, the value created in that movement is enough that you can take a piece and everyone is way better off, and the cost of doing so is orders of magnitude less than college costs now. I really think we're going to enter a golden age of educational innovation, because the current system is broken enough folks are looking elsewhere. I would love to see someone do that at a serious kind of scale for high-paying trades: plumbing, welding, etc.
Trade apprenticeship + cultivated curiosity in tech = exactly what hold industries need.
Unfortunately, old industries tend toward new "talent" + degree in something cool sounding in hopes of disruptive "yahtzee". they, or at least mine, largely ignore the ones who know the business rules/needs the most in gavor of who "should know the future best". Oops.
It's annoying when this is discussed, because people assume all there are only three skilled trades; plumber, electrician, or machinist of some kind. Machine Drafting, for example, was absolutely decimated by the rise of cad/cam, as was graphic design with the rise of desktop publishing and decline of print due to the web. We also have hairdressing, which is ok but shows that many trades are not open to women, nor can many areas not support a decent amount of tradespeople.
I went to a vocational high school myself, and many people wound up going to college instead, as maybe half the trades didn't have much of a future. And keep in mind, there were a LOT of tradespeople thrown out of work in the 90s in my area due to military budget cuts, too; many skilled tradesmen tend to piggyback on defense or government spending, which is not sustainable.
Um, where are the statistics showing that wages in the trades are rising? Everything I have seen indicates that wages in the trades are stagnant which implies that they don't need any more people.
Dumping a whole bunch of people into a system already at close to optimum employment will not benefit workers.
The real question is how can we reduce the cost of education (or training) while simultaneously better aligning training with the most valuable careers.
Trade schools are much cheaper than college. In addition, we don’t have enough trained craftsmen.
If people are going to make more money, where does the demand come from? Or is this about American manufacturers gaining market share from/in other countries?
I don't know much about macroeconomics, so maybe this is a silly question.
A financial gap of any kind comes from unfair advantages in a vastly complex system. How could something like that be solved by attending another kind of school. Imo these are two totally independent things.
So, a bit like the "General and Vocational College" we have here in Québec, Canada. Three-year technical programs for students who wish to pursue a skilled trade at a modest price. The price per semester is a mere $132 and you even have access to scholarships & financial aid. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CEGEP
Relevant TL;DR summary:
> Note: Working papers have not been peer-reviewed or been subject to review by the NBER Board of Directors that accompanies official NBER publications.
It's the other way around - a college education should be at least as useful as trade school - i.e. decent employment shouldn't be a luxury
I entered high school in California right as woodshop classes were being shuttered due to lower funding and also people wanting the students spend more time preparing for college, not in a woodshop.
I think some might have benefited more by going to woodshop classes. Who knows?
Income gap has nothing to do with education, it has everything to do with power differentials. Education isn't going to counter the musical-chairs nature of the economy nor the outsized influence of a handful of ultra-wealthy.
Learn programming in a trade school or study English at an Ivy League school?
My bet would be the programmer will make more money more consistently across a large number of people than the other. They will also probably have less school debt.
Trade school get's you license. A medical degree or a legal degree get's you a license. A regular four year college degree is just an invitation to compete in a race to the bottom.
a great one hour program on NPR 1a call-in program on the trades, apprenticeships here:
Yeah, but from career politicians POV: we want liberal arts. STEM or trade skills.... that is risky. They may want a smaller gov. So no way politics will go this way. For example, the Dirty Jobs guy? His video is banned by Google. True.
We should close down business colleges in my opinion. Like learn a skill for fucks sake.
With the constant ads for mutual funds with outrageous up-yours fees for just tracking the S&P 500, the endless shilling and apologetics for investment banks and hedge funds, the perpetual armchair quarterbacking of the market by overpaid newsreaders who really wouldn't even be working there if they even halfway understood what they were talking about... why does anyone watch or even pay the slightest attention to what CNBC has to say?
Another layer on top of an already terrible curriculum.
Just make the damn schools better; the rotten prison system whose only arguable purpose has been to keep the unemployment figures down.
There is way too much social inertia and disdain for people who won't play the asphyxiating game (and we're supposed to be "tolerant, diverse" and all that jazz), that I wish, very much like Miyazaki, that the world experience another great deluge.
It doesn’t need to be one or the other. Just because trade schools are good doesn’t mean we should ignore the needs of everyone who wants a 4 year degree or has a mountain of student loan debt.
Germany is the country that lost the battle but won the war. I am not saying Germany is not full of hard working and smart people but consider this.
Germany wreaked havoc on its neighbors effectively killing huge % of their populations,destroying trillions of $ worth of infrastructure and industries and much more. Yet they only paid dimes to these countries because someone smart people decided they must be the balancing force against the Soviets.
Also consider this. Germany is effectively dominating the markets of its neighbors solely because of weak euro, its industrial scale, "open" (anti-protectionist) laws and ...corruption. There are many many other factors of course.