By Glenn Marshall
January 30, 2017America for more than four decades has seen middle-class households shrinking from 61% in 1971 to 50% in 2015 as reported by the Pew Research Center. One of the main drivers for the decline in the middle class and the loss of 5 million good paying manufacturing jobs over the past 15 years can be traced to offshoring and the growing trade deficits in manufactured products.
Closing Skills and Wage Gap
The U.S. has the world's most extensive and sophisticated higher education system, yet top executives warn of a crisis in the science, technology, engineering and math disciplines considered to be at the core of global economic competitiveness.
By 2020, 65 percent of all jobs in the economy will require postsecondary education and training beyond high school. More than 80 percent of manufacturers report that talent shortages will impact their ability to meet customer demand. With new technology transforming work across a range of sectors, more and more businesses are struggling to find workers with the skills to man new machines and manage new processes.
The educational attainment of the manufacturing workforce has been increasing over time, as more than half of manufacturing workers have completed at least some college and those who enter with a high school diploma are likely to continue their education through extensive on-the-job training.
Today, the manufacturing sector continues to provide good paychecks as well as important fringe benefits. The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) reported in 2015, the average manufacturing worker in the United States earned $81,289 annually, including pay and benefits. Its estimated the United States will fall short by 5 million workers with postsecondary education—at the current production rate—by 2020.
Building A Nation of Makers
Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs plays a vital role in helping American businesses close the skills gap by building a competitive workforce for the 21st century. CTE balances the pull between the practical and theoretical by applying academic knowledge to real-world problems, preparing students for a wide array of careers. The average high school graduation rate for students concentrating in CTE programs is 93 percent compared to a national adjusted cohort graduation rate of 80 percent.
Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) who co-chair the U.S. Senate CTE Caucus are leading a bipartisan initiative for increasing the emphasis on the career readiness of students. In Washington State, for every dollar invested in secondary CTE programs, taxpayers receive a $9 return on investment.
Increasing apprenticeship programs is a proven way of training a new generation of practitioners of a trade or profession with on-the-job training and often some accompanying study (classroom work and reading). Today in America, fewer than 5 percent of young people train as apprentices. In Germany, the number is closer to 60 percent—in fields as diverse as advanced manufacturing, IT, banking, and hospitality. And in Europe, what’s often called “dual training” is a highly respected career path.
"Dual training" captures the idea at the heart of every apprenticeship: Trainees split their days between classroom instruction at a vocational school and on-the-job time at a company. The theory they learn in class is reinforced by the practice at work. They also learn work habits and responsibility and, if all goes well, absorb the culture of the company. Trainees are paid for their time, including in class. The arrangement lasts for two to four years, depending on the sector. And both employer and employee generally hope it will lead to a permanent job—for employers, apprentices are a crucial talent pool.
America is not without its successful apprenticeship programs. The Apprentice School—founded in 1919 at Newport News Shipbuilding—is the preeminent apprenticeship program in the nation and offers four-, five-, and eight-year apprenticeships in nineteen shipbuilding disciplines and eight advanced programs of study. The school offers apprentices the opportunity to earn college credit, receive competitive pay and benefits and learn a trade. The school is committed to fostering apprentices’ development of craftsmanship, scholarship and leadership.