A proposal for free technical training and community college tuition is a great idea. Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam, who made the proposal Feb. 4, addresses a key issue for today's workers: too much education, not enough job-relevant training.
For employers, it's a step to alleviating the chronic shortage of workers. The construction industry, which has added 248,000 jobs over the past year, sees its labor shortage as a major problem this year. This field - like most others - relies on math and computerization to improve its efficiency.
Aimed at increasing the number of Tennessee residents with a certificate or degree beyond high school, the program could apply to any state in the U.S. In 11 years, 55% of Tennesseans will need a certificate or degree to get a job, but today, only 32% qualify.
The Tennessee program also re-balances scholarship funding so two-year community college associate programs and the first two years of university education receive equal financial backing from the state. And it provides funding for remedial mathematics to eliminate the need for remedial math courses for students entering college. Currently, 70% of high school graduates in Tennessee need remedial classes before they are able to take a college level math course.
Fifty years ago, college was not a requirement for most jobs - nor will it be in the future. In 1960, when taking into account all jobs in the American economy, 20% required a 4-year degree or higher; 20% were technical jobs requiring skilled training; and 60% were classified as unskilled.
In 2018, that ratio will be not so dramatically different. Harvard University predicts only 33% of all jobs will require a 4-year degree or more. The overwhelming majority will be middle-skilled jobs requiring technical skills and training at the credential or Associates Degree level, according to a Harvard study and a position paper prepared by Telos Associates.
Wood industry employers struggle now with a shortage of properly trained workers. And a mis-educated generation struggles now with too much education, of the wrong sort, and working in professions below their education level - what have become known as gray collar workers.
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