Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Vocational Training, Not Degrees, May Be a Surer Route to Well-Paying Employment

A large percentage of college students graduate with a social science or humanities major, assuaged by colleges' sales pitches for liberal arts majors. But a front-page piece in today's New York Times on where the jobs are may give you pause.

Many of the jobs promising good pay and solid job prospects even in bad times require no more than a vocational (not college prep) high school diploma plus on-the-job training. None of those listed require a graduate degree. Here are the key quotes from that article:

"Employers are begging for qualified applicants for certain occupations...Welder is one, employers report. Critical care nurse is another. Electrical lineman is yet another, particularly those skilled in stringing high-voltage wires across the landscape. Special education teachers are in demand. (This does require some modest graduate training). So are geotechnical engineers, trained in geology as well as engineering, a combination sought for oil field work. Respiratory therapists, who help the ill breathe, are not easily found, at least not by the Permanente Medical Group, which employs more than 30,000 health professionals. And with infrastructure spending now on the rise, (experienced) civil engineers are in demand to supervise the work."

"For these hard-to-fill jobs, there seems to be a common denominator. Employers are looking for people who have acquired an exacting skill, first through education — often just high school vocational training — and then by honing it on the job. (emphasis mine.) That trajectory, requiring years, is no longer so easy in America, said Richard Sennett, a New York University sociologist. The pressure to earn a bachelor’s degree draws young people away from occupational training, particularly occupations that do not require college, Mr. Sennett said."

"The Conference Board breaks the advertised (job) openings into 22 broad occupational categories and compares those with the number of unemployed whose last job, according to the bureau, was in each category. In only four of the categories — architecture and engineering, the physical sciences, computer and mathematical science (I assume a graduate degree is required for some of the physical and mathematical science job openings,) and health care — were the unemployed equal to or fewer than the listed job openings. There were, in sum, 1.09 million listed openings and only 582,700 unemployed people presumably available to fill them."

“'Until the downturn, it was easy for experienced registered nurses to find employment right in their communities, in whatever positions they wanted,' Ms. Peterson said. 'Now it is a little more difficult because the number of job openings has fallen and we have more retired nurses, in need of income, coming back.”That does not hold for nurses who have a decade of experience caring for critically ill people, particularly in hospital recovery rooms, said Dr. Robert Pearl, chief executive and chairman of the Permanente Medical Group, a big employer of medical professionals. “There are probably more nurses recently trained than there are jobs for them,' he said, 'but for those with the highest level of skill and experience, there are always openings.' And at $100,000 in pay."


wrallen99 said...

Marty, you and this article are right on target.

Vocational training is very efficient and effective as far as learning important skills and earning power.

Compare a vocational associates or diploma in a high demand field to a liberal arts associates or a business associates. You could just read the textbooks for those other degrees and save the money for the payoff they result in.

But, for vocational training in welding, mechanics, or other fields high demand fields, they result in well paid, stable (and sometimes more satisfying) work.

Dan Erwin said...

Marty: Right on post. What I'm finding most intriguing is how many guys (it's usually guys)did both vocational training and a college degree and are happy they have both.

When I ask why, the response is that they want to cover all the bases.

NYTimes Magazine had fascinating article on happy motorcycle repair guy with a Chicago PhD. Now there's a seeming conflict for you.

Cornhusker said...


I just returned home from my annual visit to Nebraska. I was visiting with a farmer and both of his sons are working as welders. (The type outlined in this article.)They are in such demand that both are flown all over the country for "welding gigs." According to their proud father, they are treated like royalty due to their skill.

Bonnie said...

A friend of mine at work is a welder. He'd once thought about going to college and becoming a pharmacist, but changed his mind when he realized he could earn more money by using his hands, working outdoors, and fusing metal together. He loves his job, and teaches welding at a local community college in his spare time. But the number of students is dwindling.

It seems that few young people have any interest in learning blue-collar trades that could earn them six-figure salaries. Instead, they want a college degree (often due to their parents' urging) and a comfortable white-collar job where their hands stay clean and their work is no more strenuous than tapping a keyboard.

My welder friend doesn't understand the lack of interest. "I make $100,000 a year welding, I don't have to deal with office politics, and I'm always home for my son's Little League games. What's not to like?"

Keep on fighting the good fight, Marty!

unperson said...

good job, marty.

Keep fighting the good fight.

You WILL be heard, as will we all.


Anonymous said...

I am talented with machines.

I wanted to build houses or to weld. My parents didn't want me to work with my hands; they wanted me to be rich, white-collar, and never work with my hands.

I was denied such training and shuttled into computer science, where I made some money for a while.

Now computer programmers are a dime a dozen and I am re-training for other technical work. Sadly, I'm not re-training as a welder.

I hope that before I die I will be able to boast that I made high-quality physical products as well as high-quality software.

Peter said...

Great piece in The Econoomist saying exactly what you have been saying for year Marty.