On Jobs, Eroding Skills and For-Profit Schools

Bear with me, OK?  I will connect the dots in a moment.  But over coffee this morning I was pondering three separate items I was reading about online. 

In the first, an expert was talking about the dangers of being unemployed long-term in this country and how job skills, regardless of what they may be, or how highly developed they may have once been, simply erode over time.  The phrase he used was “atrophied job skills.”

In the second, I was reading one of those crazy Top Ten lists; you know, one of those compendium slide show things that list “the Ten Best,” “the Ten Worst,” “the Ten Unhealthiest” or “the Ten Whatever” of one subject or another.  In this particular case, the slide show listed the Top Ten Growth Industries in the U.S., one of which it said was for-profit colleges.

And finally, I was reading about something I had briefly read or heard about last summer; something called the Centre for Engineering and Manufacturing Excellence (CEME), a London-based institute funded by the British government and designed to rejuvenate industry in the country by both elevating and modernizing the collective skill sets of its industrial workers.

So, here’s my thought:  why not combine the three?

Think about it.  Given the fact that – as I’ve said and written about many times before – while manufacturing may be recovering in this country, that recovery does not promise to be accompanied by the quantity of jobs many people still want to believe it will make possible.  As a result, a number of American workers, many of whom have had their skills atrophy to a near-fatal degree, are in desperate need of retraining.

What’s more, given that our sector is in dire need of a pipeline of skilled workers, and not merely thousands of well-intentioned and hard-working but woefully untrained laborers, why not establish a series of engineering and manufacturing academies across the country based on the CEME model in London and designed to collectively elevate the industrial aptitude of the American worker?

And finally, given that many in this country have already developed a taste for smaller government and more private sector autonomy, and given the fact that both economic and operational models are already in place and working to a stunning degree, why not make all these manufacturing academies for-profit institutions? 

Yeah, yeah, I know.  It’s not as easy as all that.  And I know too that the sheer volume of potential manufacturing jobs pales in comparison to the number of people in this country who believe that earning a college degree is a gateway to a better life. 

But this is a chick-and-egg argument, isn’t it?  While it might be hard to justify an manufacturing or an engineering equivalent of, say, the University of Phoenix today, won’t ultimately more trained engineers, computer designers, machinists and the like ultimately lead to more engineering and manufacturing companies in this country, and therefore, more engineering and manufacturing jobs?  And won’t those jobs then start to be viewed as the same kind of gateway to a better life that people now see in a college degree?  

It’s not as far-fetched as it sounds, believe me.  And it’s just what this little sector of ours needs – and sooner rather than later.

Now forgive me, I’ve got to get back to my iPad.  A few things have recently popped up I want to check out.  One woman just posted her “Ten Most Common Diet Mistakes,” while some guy has shared with us his “Top Ten Uses of Hot Chili Peppers.” 

Oh boy.  Can’t wait.

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