How Upskilling America Will Rebuild the Middle Class

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Yves here. I hate to sound like a naysayer, but American needs more than community colleges to reverse the march of rising income inequality. We need much higher income taxes on top brackets, no or a very severely restricted capital gains tax break, and higher estate taxes, as well as stronger protections of worker rights. Even though “upskilling” sounds all well and good, the reality is that there aren’t all that many who will benefit from going to community college, much the less attain a middle class income from that level of education. The PMC “Let them eat training” has repeatedly been shown to be empty, particularly for older workers. And that’s before getting to a geographic mis-match: that workers too often wind up in declining areas, but lack the contacts and the walking-around money to get situated in a new location.

And an actual economy-wide increase in the number of technical jobs goes against the neoliberal tide. There are virtually no entry level computer science positions; regular queries on how to get hired in a hostile market from new computer science grads in Slashdot over the last nearly two decades confirms that. Similarly, since before the crisis, entry-level work in the law has also been greatly reduced, with legal research increasing done by algos and staffers in India. How can professionals learn their craft if US companies refuse to bear the cost of their training? The trajectory is towards more hollowing out, not less.

And that’s before getting to the ceding of supervisory and plant-manager level skills on the manufacturing front. Those would take quite some time to rebuild, along with industrial-policy type subsidies. But the US is allergic to that sort of thing, except by accident (see our bloated health care and higher education sectors as examples).

That is not to say that the Biden programs won’t do some good. But they fall well short of the sort of root and branch changes needed to create more opportunities for middle and lower income workers.

By Tom Conway, the international president of the United Steelworkers Union (USW). Produced by the Independent Media Institute

Nick Kessler lived paycheck to paycheck—eking life out of his bald tires, “praying to God nothing broke” at home—until he landed a union position at U.S. Steel in Granite City, Illinois, three years ago.

While that job changed his life, Kessler didn’t stop there. He also took advantage of free training, provided under the United Steelworkers (USW) contract with the company, to advance to a highly skilled electrician’s role that provides even more security for his wife and young son.

President Joe Biden’s American Families Plan would make that kind of transformative opportunity available to all, giving millions of workers greater access to family-sustaining jobs while helping the nation rebuild the middle class.

Among many other provisions, Biden’s plan would provide access to two years of tuition-free community college and training to every American.

It’s essential that Congress now pass legislation that enacts the plan and paves the way for more Americans to obtain associate degrees, commercial driver’s licenses or professional certifications in the skilled trades and other crucial fields.

“Your education is something nobody can ever take from you,” said Kessler, a member of USW Local 1899, noting skills like his enhance his employment prospects no matter where he lives.

“The electricians and the plumbers and the carpenters and the welders are the ones that keep everything going,” he observed. “The demand for the trades is the highest that it’s been in years.”

And the demand will only grow exponentially under the American Jobs Plan, the president’s call to invest nearly $2 trillion in infrastructure, including roads and bridges, locks and dams, schools and airports, manufacturing facilities, the electric grid, new energy systems and communication networks.

These long-overdue infrastructure investments, long championed by the USW, will lift America out of the COVID-19 recession, rebuild the economy and strengthen the country for the next crisis.

The nation will need pipefitters, electricians, carpenters, welders and other skilled workers not only to construct roads and refurbish buildings but also to fill highly technical jobs like Kessler’s in steel mills, foundries and other plants that manufacture the materials and equipment for infrastructure projects.

According to Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, “[t]he infrastructure plan would create or save 15 million jobs over 10 years.” Workers could obtain the skills needed for many of those jobs with six months of training or less.

Providing workers with a pathway for that upskilling will be essential to meeting the nation’s infrastructure needs. While union members often receive training benefits through their contracts, many Americans currently lack those opportunities.

Before joining the USW at U.S. Steel, for example, Kessler took electrician’s classes at a community college but found the tuition too expensive to complete the program on his own.

Another steelworker, Erik Boyer, picked up mechanical skills as best he could while working on cars in his backyard.

Now, after accepting a job at Cleveland-Cliffs’ New Carlisle Works in Indiana and testing into the mechanical program, Boyer will get the combination of classroom instruction and on-the-job training he needs to formalize and complete his education in a year to 14 months.

He knows many more Americans would consider careers in the trades if they knew that the jobs and training were available to them.

“That opens things up to a lot of people,” Boyer, a member of USW Local 9231, said of Biden’s college and training proposal. “It does provide answers to a lot of problems.”

USW Local 14581 in Elkhorn City, Kentucky, operates an on-the-job training program with decades of success putting workers into family-sustaining highway construction jobs like truck drivers, carpenters, drillers, blasters and grader and roller operators.

Local President Gypsy Cantrell realizes that many more local residents would benefit from the program—now supported by government agencies and contractors—and hopes that funds from the American Families Plan will enable her to expand it.

Among other possibilities, she would like to establish a training center so she can begin offering classroom instruction, install equipment simulators and bring in retired union members to offer their expertise. She said some trainees, like carpenters, could even put their skills to use in community service projects as part of an enhanced curriculum.

“The need is there,” Cantrell said, noting an expanded program would enable the local to provide skilled workers for new projects generated through Biden’s infrastructure push.

Women and workers of color have long fought for equitable opportunities in the nation’s economy, and the education benefits afforded by the American Families Plan would help to level the playing field.

An expansion of the Local 14581 training program, for example, would boost the union’s longstanding efforts to place struggling residents like DeDe Wallace in family-sustaining jobs. Wallace’s training as a grader operator enabled her to raise three grandchildren after her husband, Ricky, became disabled and later died.

“I don’t know what would have happened to them if I hadn’t been able to take care of them,” Wallace, who retired in 2018, said of her grown and successful grandkids.

Because of his past struggles, Kessler appreciates what he has now all the more.

He’s happy to be able to provide for his family. But he’s also proud to wield skills essential to the nation’s prosperity.

“It’s a pretty great career,” he said.

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  1. Altandmain

    I agree with Yves on the idea that we will need a lot more than community colleges.

    The reason why many young people are skeptical about upskillling these days is because they got screwed over by the advice that everyone should go to a university. Many graduated with deep student debts and very limited career opportunities.

    Regardless of whether you are of the opinion that university is about teaching people to think or if it is a job training center, there has to be a minimum level of job opportunities available due to the combination of high living costs and high student loan debt.

    The big question is whether or not the trades can accomplish what university failed to do, bring some degree of consistency when it comes to post graduate economic prospects.

    I suspect even with a Green New Deal (and I suspect that Biden will cave to not just Republicans, but the more economically conservative neoliberal Democrats, any deal will be hopelessly watered down), most areas of the economy that require a community college will not have worker shortages.

    That means that community college is also a tougher sell. Keep in mind that people need to have a certain level of income to achieve even modest economic security these days.

  2. CBBB

    Formal education in a university or community college or trade school is only ONE component of a real education. Unfortunately anglosphere countries like the US, UK, Canada think it is the ONLY thing that matters. But industries have been hollowed out and there are hardly any places a young graduate can go to start applying their knowledge and really learn how to do their profession or trade. It is crucially important that there are businesses there to hire trained people to teach them how to really do the job. Otherwise money on education is a waste.
    By-and-large this is not understood at all in the Anglosphere.

  3. jackiebass

    I’m a retired teacher with 35 years teaching in public secondary schools. When I started teaching in 1967 our schools had great “shop” departments. A student could take these classes and end up working in a trade upon graduation from high school. Along came Sputnik. Suddenly there was a push to get more students to attend college. Councilors were told to guide students into academic programs instead of learning a trade. Then came No Child Left Behind. This ushered in the wave of testing we still suffer from. Many students that would be good candidates to learn a trade had problems passing these tests. That meant they had to take remedial classes. These extra classes loaded up their schedule so they didn’t have room for their trade classes. Enrollment in trade classes dropped to the point these classes were eliminated. I saw many students that would have been successful in a trade dropping out of school. In my humble opinion this destroyed our former good schools that served all. It created an educational system that only served some of the students. The rest ended up dropping out or with a useless diploma. Where I live it created a severe shortage of well trained people to do many important jobs. Trained plumbers, electritions,mechanics, and carpenters are almost impossible to find. Instead we have many people working in low paid minimum wage jobs or not working at all.

    1. upstater

      I disagree that Sputnik had much to do with abolition of shop and home ec classes. In the late 1960s and early 70s my junior and senior high had mandatory introductory shop classes and full year elective shop classes. We all took wood, metal, electrical and graphic arts shop classes. Of course private schools were devoid of such classes.

      What happened in New York State in the 70s was the establishment of multi district vocational training schools (BOCES, Board of Cooperative Education Services) , separate and apart from district junior and senior high schools. Students would, in theory, have basic academics for half a day, then get bussed for an hour to BOCES for vocational classes. It made for a much longer day and effectively become a dumping place for problem kids.

      Schools quickly abolished almost all shop and home ec classes.

      Community colleges can sort of fill the vocational training role. But shop classes introduced EVERYONE to practical skills. Now kids don’t know how ro use a hammer or wrench, nor change a light bulb, cook a meal or sew on a patch. Everyone is now poorer.

      1. Jackiebass

        That was in Jr High School. Once they got to high school the whole thing changed. I cited Sputnik because this was the start of the push to have all students go to was actually indirectly implemented by No Child Left Behind. Being very good friends with the shop teachers gave me a good view of what was going on in their area. At one time my hs had 4 shop teachers. Toward the end before the program was eliminated there was 1. It all happened in about 10 years. BOCES was destroyed for the same reason. Instead of being a technical school they became a dumping ground for problem students. Probably to be able to survive.

        1. John Wright

          I remember attending city sponsored summer woodshop during elementary school in Ontario, California.

          We learned to sand, plane, glue and finish wood (and watched the instructor, suitably named Mr Workman, use the power tools).

          Another advantage of shop classes is in giving people some handy skills to use in home repair tasks.

          If one is out of work and feels unqualified to do simple home repair tasks, paying someone else to repair something may require money one doesn’t have.

          The idea that one should “work with one’s head, not one’s hands” has been ingrained in people I know.

          Maybe it should be “work with one’s head AND hands” to survive in the modern world.

      2. Amfortas the hippie

        “…effectively become a dumping place for problem kids…”

        the trade school in texas is like this…based on my own experience, as well as that of a lot of people i know.
        we’re confronting this reality with my eldest…he (contingently) wants to do HVAC, but the state school that’s affordable is so well known as a trash can and diversion program that even i am against him going that route.
        when i was attending the one in Sweetwater, there were two classes of student: 1. family men, like me…who, unlike me, had a house in town…and 2. kids with drug problems there to stay out of jail, living in the dorms.
        school even had a mandatory and monthly assembly for all who lived on campus, where the drug dog people would put on a show about how they’d come and get ya.
        anecdote, I know…but mirrored in the experiences of numerous folks i know.
        eldest’s best friend went for a semester in 2019…got “certified” for operating a forklift, by watching a video and being handed a bit of cardstock.
        shared a dorm room with 5 people who never slept…said he’d never even heard of some of the drugs they were doing.

        just one more of myriad ways that the trades have been vivisected , staked out and dried in the sun.
        policy matters.
        I’m (gently) pushing eldest to hire on with a local HVAC guy we know, and get with the union(such as it is, way out here) for the classroom aspects.
        there’s definitely a need, in the actual economy(as opposed to the imaginary one that pmc, et alia seem to inhabit)…so much that needs doing.
        but i fear that, like agriculture, the rot has set in too deep, and too many rich folks like the rot just fine.
        (more anecdote…leavened with the isolation and low population out here: i’ve never hired a plumber, electrician or carpenter since i moved out here, 26 years ago…couldn’t afford one even if i could find one willing to show up. …which is why i became a plumber, electrician, etc etc….not an option for the vast majority)

      3. p fitzsimon

        That happened here in Massachusetts. I wonder if it was just a case of saving money? Providing well equipped shops is expensive. Get rid of the shops in the school district and send s small quota of students to a regional vocational school. The bulk of students are prepared for college where the student, parents, etc will spend a few hundred thousand dollars. But the cost is out of the district.

    2. lyman alpha blob

      Shop was required* in my high school in the 80s. I remember doing fairly simple things like building a spice rack, to doing some drafting and using a lathe. I only did the minimum requirement, but auto mechanics and other more advanced options were available for those who elected to do more practical and less academic study. I can’t imagine a new high school being equipped today with the machinery mine had – gotta throw all the cash toward ipads instead to get the kids addicted early.

      * So was home-ec. Even the boys had to learn a little cooking and sewing. Does that make us ‘woke’all the way back in the 80s?

  4. LawnDart

    “…workers too often wind up in declining areas, but lack the contacts and the walking-around money to get situated in a new location.”

    In my travels, I’ve seen a lot of this.

    Community College program graduates could greatly benefit from relocation grants awarded upon graduation to move to where they actually could have the opportunity to make the most of their training. Otherwise the distressed or declining region will only see more over qualified gas station clerks and fast food workers whose skills may have atrophied by the time an employer who requires those skills moves into the area.

  5. Paid Minion

    There is no skills shortage. The only shortage is of employers willing to pay middle class salaries.

    I relocated from flyover to Chicago at age 60, just to get in a much better job market. Pay is double what Id get in Flyover. But it still plateaus at around $70k/year, no matter what your skill level is. The industry will evidently implode if it has to pay mechanics more than that.

    As near as I can figure, my extra skill/expertise is worth about $10k in the Market.

    Its hardly worth working anymore.

    1. LawnDart

      I did the relocation thing too, and bumped salary up 40-50% from flyover while CUTTING expenses! Rent? Cheaper. Utilities? Cheaper. Gas? Cheaper. Insurance? Cheaper. And less taxes and fees to boot (better roads too, although that’s not saying much).

      In Southwest PA, the Feds funded worker training via community college because would-be employers stated they couldn’t relocate or otherwise open up shop there due to a lack of skilled workers. I got the skills, and then relocated to where the (well-paying) jobs were.

      Remodeling work (another skill-set) on a job that was almost pure gravy funded my exodus (luck, reputation, and being at the right place at the right time surely helped). Maybe I’ll go back when employers actually open up positions there that pay competitively with other markets (easier access to outdoors stuff, which I enjoy), but the clock is always ticking, and I feel the urge to settle.

    2. Glen

      Bingo, bingo, bingo!

      This is the problem we need to overcome! Pay levels have been beat into submission for forty years, unions have been destroyed, and companies will out source long before they will spend to develop in house talent.

      We need to create a country that has MASSIVE skilled worker shortages for mega corporate America while at the same time we empower mom and pop companies to thrive.

  6. Heraclitus

    You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.

    In Tennessee, the community college system is free regardless of income. One of the community colleges has an enrollment of about 10,000 students, and is thirty to forty five minutes from Nashville, which is booming. They have a computer networking certificate program that takes two semesters to complete. Upon completion, entry level jobs average $50,000 plus, according to the instructor. There were recently five students in it, none of whom finished their certificate on time. (A friend who lives there gave me these figures).

    At our local community (technical) college in SC, where the economy is also booming, they graduate many nurses and dental hygienists. Other fields, not so much. It is $2,600 a semester to attend, and most students are probably covered by PELL grants. Even people in their hairdressing program have to take remedial math, which is frustrating to many and prevents many from advancing to their actual vocational classes. The equivalent to the Tennessee networking certificate course is three semesters, with the addition that they prepare you to take the Microsoft certification.exam.

    People who know a lot about IT say that networking people won’t be needed in five or ten years. Idk. But I think that if a certificate helps you get a foot in the door, then great. However, I just don’t see a huge reservoir of people held back by cost who would otherwise have a nice job. They are held back by lack of motivation, and by their previous twelve years of education, which beat the love of learning out of them, while at the same time left them deficient in skills like writing and basic math.

    1. philnc

      I don’t know what alternative universe those people live in, but even in an evironment that is entirely hosted on big cloud providers like AWS, Google Cloud or Azure, companies are going to need skilled in-house network architects and engineers: unless they want to continue getting owned by state and privately sponsored hackers, and their own ignorance.

      Having said that, it’s obvious the chaotic and childishly self-centered management of our economy by economic elites is never going to address the problem of getting jobs to where the people who need them are, any more that they’ve been able to provide a roof over the heads of the homeless or medical care to the sick. Revisionists now claiming none of that was ever promised just won’t do: it was exactly what “morning in America” was all about: the bright new future for everyone that supply-side economics, privatization and American ingenuity would bring. The fact that people witnessed its failure in slow motion, point by point, over time but now refuse to accept it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.

  7. ObjectiveFunction

    Thanks again for covering this tremendously important topic.

    Here in Singapore, the main topic of social conversation, for both locals and expats, tends to center around the rigors of schooling one’s children and grandkids. A (half) joke about Asian parents’ grading scale goes:

    A = Average
    B = Below Average
    C = Can’t Have Dinner
    D = Don’t Come Home
    F = Find a New Family!

    And Singapore would seem at first glance to provide an enviable model for a 21st century global citizenry. They should be cranking out top managers and scientists left right and center….

    (a) the dominant Chinese and Indian cultures here require of their children academic excellence across all subjects, and impose long hours of homework and ‘tuition’ (extra tutoring)

    (b) expats (like me) typically come from the credentialist striving PMCs in our homelands. While we also value sports and extracurriculars, we still fret about our kids ‘keeping up’ with their local schoolmates, even in less rigorous International schools.

    In fact, it’s unusual for a Westerner to make honor roll at any school here, although note that American and Aussie kids (and their parents) almost invariably end up taking charge of extracurriculars (I’m just calling it as I live it here, folks, and yes there are exceptions). Hold that thought….

    (c) this business-friendly city state, hosting the Asian operations of countless foreign enterprises, has a lot of well paid, high status and upwardly mobile global jobs: banking, consulting, R&D and engineering, as well as health care and education. There is also a large civil service here, supporting an ecosystem of contractors, as is true in other ‘advanced’ countries.

    (d) the National Service requirement gives even the most sheltered Singaporean youth at least some glimpse into the world beyond their homes, classrooms and smartphones.

    So rah rah for Singapore. So what?

    Well, in spite of all these enviable advantages, Singaporean and foreign employers alike have major problems finding high performing professionals here.

    This isn’t about racism, employers prefer other English-fluent Asians: Indians from India, or ethnic Chinese from other ASEAN countries. Chinese Filipino bankers and lawyers, for example, do well here. And it isn’t some kind of cynical wage arbitrage play either, although Singapore authorities like to pretend it’s that; it is still cheaper to hire degreed Singaporeans in Singapore.

    So why, then? It’s hard to generalize, but I will anyway. Sadly, for all their work ethic and excellent analytics, Singaporean uni grads on the job tend to be notably by-the-book and hierarchy-driven. Like well crafted hammers looking for nails. For back- or middle- office roles that’s fine, but these days you can get that kind of diligent box checking far cheaper in Hyderabad.

    For practical problem solving in fast changing markets, which is what is needed in regional operations, Singaporean hires are notoriously weak on initiative and ‘asking forgiveness not permission’. Again, this is relative to other educated Asians.

    Yes, there are many exceptions; I’ve worked for some of them. But you rarely keep those for long if you can hire them: once they’ve learned enough, they are prone to either job hopping or founding their own businesses, usually with family help.

    And hey, good on them! and I’m as cynical about exploitative wage relations as the next NCer. But only a small minority of humanity is really cut out for (or has family backing for) entrepreneurship. Most of us must earn our daily bread as employees of organizations, public or private. Which in turn require problem solvers, that is, employees who take ownership and can make judgment calls based on fragmentary information. Whether or not they are rewarded for it. And the superb Singaporean education system just doesn’t tend to produce these kinds of ‘owners’, in spite of its many other virtues. So local underemployment here remains stubbornly high, which is of great concern to the state.

    So FWIW, all this is to offer a non-US perspective on what is really a universal challenge. Education and numeracy is a necessary, but not a sufficient condition to a (gag!) ‘globally competitive workforce’.

    Also, while I’m stereotyping here, I will go all in and observe like de Tocqueville and others that Americans, across class, culture or ethnicity, remain exceptionally inclined to take charge of practical problems, rather than shrugging apathetically or waiting for orders. This might be the positive flip side of Dunning-Kruger, or viewing themselves as temporarily embarrassed millionaires. Americans are, still, at least willing to try. So don’t offshore the bike shop, Orville.

  8. Tom Pfotzer

    Yves said that we need:

    “root and branch changes needed to create more opportunities for middle and lower income workers”


    I would like to see more articles and discussion here @ NC about those root and branch changes. I think there’s a great big void in the community dialog about what those changes are.

    The facts on the ground are:

    a. Production does now, and will progressively need less labor per unit output. This is a durable trend, and it’s the main reason the middle class is shrinking. Middle class people sell labor, and the global value of labor is falling.

    b. Capitalism puts capital to work to cut costs, and to identify, secure and defend rent-extraction mechanisms. See Warren Buffet’s comments on “moats”.

    Item A reduces the value of what you (the middle class) sells, and item B increases what you pay for what you need and want.

    Those are the two sides of the gigantic vise that is systematically crushing the middle class’ vitality.

    So that means new industries are needed that can be invented, created, occupied and defended by the little guys.

    Capitalism for the little guy. I believe that’s a highly fruitful subject. Do you agree with that statement, and if so, are there forums you know of where that subject is developed?

    People say “most folks are not capable of innovation and entrepreneurship”. Is that an attitude – or even a fact – that is serving us well?

  9. DJG, Reality Czar

    The four-paragraph headnote by Yves Smith is, as always, an astute summing up of the current circumstances. The headnote stands on its own.

    The article itself has a strange weakness: It extols community colleges, but the biogs of Kessler, Boyer, and Wallace don’t seem to include much attendance at community colleges. They got their training through the union.

    Training through the union is something that upper-middle-class Americans don’t even fathom anymore. In fact, as the headnote indicates, training of any sort is in short supply these days. I have worked in publishing for many years, which always operated as a trade–newbie editors and graphic designers were treated as apprentices and given instruction. Then the marketing department and HR took over everything. Now, training at most publishing houses seems to consist of some on-line canned course bought by “human resources” that consists of slides teaching, what else?, adherence to company policies administered by HR. The joy of work.

  10. Ook

    “Root and branch changes” implies changing the priorities of corporate entities.

    As an example, one of the best software developers I’ve ever met started life as a Juilliard-trained musician, who applied for an internship at IBM on a lark in the late 1970s or early 1980s. He was accepted based on the results of their aptitude test, and they also thought his musical education would serve him well in software development. They trained him in programming from scratch, and paid him while they were training him.

    I imagine this doesn’t happen much today, and it won’t happen if the role of the corporation continues to be limited to maximizing shareholder profit. But this example of my musician/developer friend was America, not so long ago.

    1. Leftcoastindie

      I got started in programming the same way (40+ years ago). I took an aptitude test and was trained by the company and was paid for it. You had to have a college degree though.
      I have also worked with many musicians turned programmers along the way and at least one who went the other way and became a full time musician.
      Those days are long gone I’m afraid to say.

    2. Laura in So Cal

      One issue is that with “leaner” corporate structures, they want to minimize the number of people you need to employ. In the last 10 years, the number of people in the accounting and finance at my local manufacturing site has been cut by more than 50%. A combination of automation, centralization, “standard work.”. One side effect is that the employees are doing more different kinds of work. For this, you need people with a wide breadth of knowledge and experience to handle the various demands and high workloads. You don’t get that with new hires who are just out of school. We just hired our first such person in the 10 years I’ve been with the company. He was an intern and when we had someone retire, we brought him in. He is the only person under 40 in our departments and the average age is more like mid-50’s.

    3. responseTwo

      In programming and in music there is a helpful thing to remember- simplicity is beauty.

  11. The Historian

    More Horatio Alger stories. Tell me, exactly what do community colleges do for people that apprenticeship programs didn’t do in the past, except transfer the cost of training from the companies to the taxpayer?

    1. juno mas

      Well, I’ll give you my observations.

      An associate (2 yr.) degree from a Calif. Comm. College requires introductory courses in liberal arts (Soc., Hist., Psyc., etc) as well as “hands on” technical training in both trades and business skill (accounting, criminal law, nursing). It also includes exposure to a variety of other students and instructors that is also a valuable/enlightening experience that leads to a broadening of social perspective (“Ya’ know caucasians aren’t all that bad.”). This is not something found in most apprentice programs.

      The problem with attending a community college is not tuition/fees; it’s having enough time flexibility to work and pay for housing and food (or childcare). Many students at my college work in the service industry (restaurant/hotel), so the college concentrates classes on Mon>Thurs; leaving the busy weekends for work.

      Unfortunately, working and studying for college level coursework is demanding. Many don’t complete the curricula. That doesn’t mean the experience was useless. We need more people to attempt the make a leap forward; without crushing debt.

      1. Louis

        Many community colleges have online options for at least basic courses.

        The bigger issue I see is the stigma surrounding community colleges–they are seen as less rigorous or where the people who are lazy or couldn’t cut at 4 year colleges go.

        I’m not saying the stigma is deserved but it is real.

        1. juno mas

          California community colleges have a range of academic/training programs. Many California students with 4.0 high school GPA’s attend their local community college to save on housing and other expenses. Many fully intend to transfer to one of the University systems in the state.

          Freshpersons admitted to a 4 year institution in California have GPA’s in the mid-4’s (no kidding). There are too many talented students to be accommodated in the Cal State System. So they take what’s available and then transfer.

          Other high school students recognize the competition and seek associate degrees and practical training to advance in the workplace AND gain a valuable college experience. (There
          is no better experience than taking on the challenge of college coursework with new peers; they are experience/friendship for a lifetime that usually leads to new horizons.)

          1. junomas


            The Calif. CC system has 2.1 million students. It is the largest on-site system of higher education in the world.

  12. Bijou

    All good comments above taken, there is massive ignorance here of the Dog & Bone reality. We can train 100 excellent bone finding dogs, even equip them with high tech genetically engineered sniffers, but if there are only 90 bones to fetch then 10 dogs will come home boneless — those 10 are unemployed in bones (maybe more unemployed dogs if some dogs are equipped with bone-storing pouches).

    Absent radical socialistic Le Salaire à Vie, the obvious solution is a Job Guarantee, not just (or not even at all?) better training. Better skilled workers cannot employ themselves if they find no buyers for what they’re selling. The JG is the only single policy MMT tells us is morally mandated by a monopoly taxing authority who is the sole source of the tax credit (aka. dollars) via their spending or the credit their agent banks provide. The JG also can include on the schedule of “public purpose work” training oneself and up-skilling oneself, with whatever resources are available, the Federal government can always pay the bill if the resources are for sale, and then if the Gov does not pay a higher price for the needed JG resources for self-directed or locally aided training programs, then there can be no inflation.

    Once a JG is in place, then the fruits of a more highly skilled workforce are manifested. Designer inflation (the final frontier of MT that few are brave enough to pass) can also then be a deliberate policy by incrementing the JG wage floor periodically by “on call”. This sort of purposeful controlled inflation is the de facto tax on hoarded wealth no rentiers can avoid. Excuse the impoliteness, but F the libertarians who think inflation is just more “tax theft.” (I mean, father forgive the libertarians, for they know not what beasts of oligarchy they would “liberate.”)

  13. Jesper

    Sometimes policies need to come with a warning that some financial products have to come with: ‘Past performance is no guarantee of future performance’.

    Education and reskilling has in some circumstances worked great, in other circumstances they worked ok and in some circumstances they didn’t work at all.

    In Europe there is something called NEET:
    NEET, an acronym for “Not in Education, Employment, or Training”
    So like anything that can be gamed that is being gamed – put people into training and the NEET looks better. Whether or not improving NEET that way does people and/or society any good is not a consideration.

    Based of what I have seen then such investments in education/training will enrich private providers of such education/training. In Sweden I’d say that there is an entire industry living off the existence of the unemployed, part of that industry is providing training/education at the expense of the public.
    The Swedish Social Democrats have had organisations to help the unmployed get back to work, those organisations have grown with the unemployment and have provided lots of opportunities for cronyism and private profits. Now I have the impression that the Swedish Social Democratic party would rather have this industry living off the unemployed than reduced unemployment.

    I have two experiences from such organisations:
    -One said they might allow me to work for them for free if they got paid by the unemployment agency for allowing me to work for them. That organisation was and is very closely tied to the Swedish Social Democratic party.
    -The other asked me to provide medical details for all members of my immediate family. They wanted it to assess my suitability to work as a home-care assistant, for such work then of course the profits of my work would go to the employer and any salary paid to me would be paid by the general public. I refused to provide the details and the provider threatened to report me so that my unemployment insurance payouts would be terminated. He did report me but since I didn’t have any unemployment insurance due to having worked abroad then nothing changed. The public unemployment agency had a mixed response, two people seemed ok with what happened and the third seemed genuinely disappointed that he couldn’t punish me by denying me unemployment benefits.

    I did try to report that company for illegally collecting and storing personal information but the agency responsible for regulating such said that it was not their responsibily to regulate them it was for the unemployment agency to regulate. The unemployment agency said it was not their responsibility to regulate the collection and storage of personal data by suppliers to them.

    Two weeks after that I moved back to Ireland where I had/have a personal professional network and started working again.
    Based on my experiences then I’d say that the Swedish job-market is closed to me but there are several organisations who would get tax-payer funding if I came back and lived off my savings until my savings ran out and then went on welfare when those tax-payer funded organisations would be in positions to really squeeze hard. Some of those organisations would undoubtedly be training-providers.

    So for me, at least some of the talk about training is really about gaming a statistic while directing public resources to friends.

    1. anon y'mouse

      your experiences are exactly what i think of when everyone touts “job guarantee”.

      we, as a society, can do no other than make such a thing punitive for those forced to engage with it.

  14. Felix_47

    Yves stated the issues eloquently. Thank you. The only reason the Union jobs these people are training for make any sense is US Government prevailing wage rules. Journeyman pay for electricians, HVAC, carpentry, crane operators etc. is quite high, with benefits. Very little government subsidized infrastructure, if any, is build without prevailing wage. That seems to be why it is so hard to build affordable housing for homeless and poor people with government funding. I heard somewhere that one homeless apartment unit in LA costs a million dollars. That is why nuclear plants are so expensive. That is why it costs 2.5 billion a mile to extend the New York Subway. I was involved with the tear down of the Fontana Kaiser Steel Mill 27 years ago (Where Terminator 2 was shot)… was blueprinted, marked in Chinese, and cut up piece by piece by Chinese workers and shipped on Chinese ships to China….. to be reassembled. The big conflict was that the Operating Engineers had enough political clout to keep the project from moving forward by refusing to let the Chinese use the heavy equipment. So they got a compromise from the state and county. The Chinese had to hire Union operating engineers from 9 to 5 five days per week but nights and weekends was all Chinese. Needless to say the bulk of the work with cranes and machinery was done nights and weekends. The manager said to me at the time when I asked him why the operating engineers were not working on the weekends and the Chinese were running all the cranes, “You Americans need your rest.” What I am getting at is the bulk of electrical, plumbing, carpentry, framing in California is done by and through labor contractors (to insulate the general from worker’s comp and labor law and hiring illegals) who hire the cheapest and best workers they can find and when they find them they get them to recruit more of their kind from their villages….and that is not in the US and it is slightly above minimum wage. Having done construction in North Carolina as well I can say the strategy is the same there but the small companies don’t use the labor contractors. And we can train a kid from Guatemala or Mexico to do 75% of the work in a week or ten days. By a year or so those that stay with us are competent plumbers, carpenters, electricians, roofers. We don’t need more vocational schools…..we need employers who are willing to train the employees and who see that as cost effective. In a way Foremen or employers are acting in loco parentis. Training an arrogant American who wants to be highly paid and wants and deserves a living wage who has trouble showing up all the time who is not reliable and who may be on drugs is not cost effective for employers. There is very little in electrical, for example, that a kid with four years of school in Mexico (equivalent to high school in the US) can’t do except get it past inspection which we then need a license for. And after a few years they can get a license too. So the jobs these Union leaders are talking about are heavily government subsidized and a small fraction of the work that is done. Those wage rates these ex steelworkers are going to get after these training programs are in no way market value. As a long time Union member in the past what I would like to see is our trade agreements focus on getting our Unions to be able to organize and strike internationally. For example, the Steelworkers and Autoworkers should be pushing the Biden Administration to force Mexico to allow US Unions to organize and strike in Mexico and eventually even China. That would increase world wide prosperity dramatically. If you want to sell in the US you are going to have to have International Union labor. Was the ILGWU an international in name at least and my mother survived her old age on a pension from the ILGWU….thank goodness. That would give them the power to fight labor arbitrage. Right now your Audi or Ford or GM vehicle is largely made with 2 dollar an hour labor in Mexico and brought to the US tariff free. There is no reason the UAW should not be able to strike those plants and the Teamsters should be able to stop the transport of those vehicles. Disney and corporate lawyers, patent trolls and financiers should not be the only participants in international trade agreements. Why our politicians are in love with labor arbitrage is easy to see. Why anyone supports Democrats who have sold labor out is hard to see.

  15. Dominique Vidrine

    I retired from the us military after 24 years and currently teach high school JROTC. I’ve spent the past 4 year’s teacher here in a rural NC county and I enjoy reading a wide variety of articles about education (and lots of other things!).
    During these discussions about education, further education, tech schools etc. I always think “Well clearly we can train 18-22 year olds (us military) in a wide variety of career skills, some not so fancy and some very complicated. However, we have all the sergeants/petty officers acting as mentors/trainers so that the basic skill set taught in a military school can be refined over a few years while they really get some great OJT”.
    Obviously the military is not for everyone, or even many, but this training/schooling gap we have between what’s needed in the economy and what’s sold by schools and universities seems to be massive.

    1. upstater

      The takeaway from your comment is the government is perfectly able to provide training for highly skilled trades and professions — but only for the military. It has ZERO interest in doing this for the economy as a whole; cf. COVID response or rotting national infrastructure, all starved of skilled workers and funding.

      The MIC is a huge negative sum game, particularly when the opportunity cost is factored in…

      1. Dominique J Vidrine

        Yes, I see your point. Why did private business get out of the OJT side of work also? Also, I would love to see some investment in 9-12 grades regarding more applicable real-world skills. My school has an auto shop (which many schools do not) but I can see where if you wanted to start new trade-oriented classes the cost would be quite high. After all, it’s cheap to have desks, a white board and simple handouts for students to fill in…

        I also have a relative who works in workforce development in another state, she said their is always pushback from some parents when it is suggested that maybe everyone does not need to attend a four year college… so we have that too.

      2. Dropzone2

        Yes, we are capable of funding solid training for many people. However, I think globalization really tore into the middle class and allowed businesses to get out of the OJT game.
        I feel like our 9-12 grade schools could do a better job of ensuring more students are equipped with solid core skills that they can use in a lot of future careers. Shoving everyone off to four year colleges (forget about the exorbitant cost now) was never a good plan.
        Also, I know many parents who are still very resistant to the idea of “their” kids having to do blue collar jobs…

        On a separate note, a ton of students I know have been working during these covid times and most of them have a good work ethic and are not shy of making money when they can.

  16. Louis

    While there is nothing wrong with earning a living by a trade and people who are skilled should pursue that route, I can’t help but wonder if this push for more trades will go too far and there will eventually be a saturation point where aspiring tradespeople will have the same difficulty getting entry level jobs as law school graduates or other college-educated individuals do.

    I’m not saying it will happen overnight but if “learn a trade” becomes the new “go to college” or anyone who isn’t going into STEM should learn a trade, we could end up with more people than pathways into the career field.

  17. ArvidMartensen

    It doesn’t matter if you have a PhD in manufacturing widgets, or in STEM or in nursing etc.
    Four things make a middle class:
    1. Actual jobs
    2. With a good living wage
    3. With job security
    4. In a civilized society with access to good education, healthcare and other infrastructure.

    Good jobs are disappearing because government policies have killed jobs (policies and taxes that promote offshoring), have killed a good living wage (policies that encourage destruction of unions), have slowly strangled job security (governments turning a blind eye to labor law breakers such as Uber, Amazon etc) and have dismantled community assets and support (let’s all vote for tax cuts).

    Putting the onus on workers to create jobs through getting more educated is
    a) wildly irrational and
    b) disingenous.
    It’s just a ‘look over there’ strategy to protect their megarich donors from any threats to their gravytrain of looting wages and public money.

  18. RMO

    Many times in the past I’ve mentioned my own reasons for being skeptical of the let-em-eat-training brigade but I may as well do it again. I trained as an Aircraft Maintenance Engineer – M (roughly the Canadian equivalent of the U.S. A&P+I.A. ticket) and graduated with perfect attendance and the highest marks in my class – never got a job. Which of course means I never completed my apprenticeship which is required in order to get the actual AME license. Only one person out of my class of sixteen actually got employed in the aircraft maintenance industry. He had previously been employed as a gopher at a helicopter operation and been a turbine engine technician until MTU closed the facility he worked at so he did have the advantage of previous experience. He was also a really good guy, honest, competent and easy to work with. I had to wait a year and a half to get into the program and even a couple of years after we graduated I was still seeing media reports where industry flacks were talking about the shortage of workers and how this would be a great field to get into with lots of good jobs. Interestingly when I looked for real job postings I still found almost none at all, and absolutely none for apprentices. That made me distrustful of any hyping of trades. After that I decided to try the more academic route and made an abortive attempt at computer science and made the discovery that I despise coding and am absolutely horrible at it – only one semester down the drain there. Then I went for a business administration degree in accounting. I both enjoyed that school work and turned out to be quite good at it. Turns out that didn’t get me work either, not even entry level, low pay bookkeeping. Being middle aged by this point may well have had something to do with that.

    Suffice it to say you should ignore anything the industry, schools or government have to say. Look for yourself to see what the real job situation is before spending your time and money on schooling. Don’t believe anything you hear about a desperate need for workers in a certain field unless you see the companies spending their own money on training people.

  19. Ook

    “Being middle aged by this point may well have had something to do with that.”

    Indeed. We have to remember that this kind of training generally provides the background required for an entry-level position at best, and at this point you’re competing with 21 year olds.
    The differentiation that people in their 30s or older can provide has to be from job experience. And we’re back to catch 22.

  20. Sound of the Suburbs

    The average IQ is 100.
    Those at the top decided we should move to a knowledge based economy.
    The sneaky little devils were just biasing things in their favour.

    What about those with more practical skills?
    Who cares?

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