Off The Wall: Parade Magazine

Karen Condon writes…
Mike, it was a pleasant surprise to see you mentioned in this weekend’s Parade.  As always, your viewpoint on the skills gap is well stated, “We have to stop elevating one form of education over all the others, and begin treating all jobs for what they truly are — opportunities.”
Hi Karen
Thanks. Parade has been a good friend to mikeroweWORKS, and I’m always happy to share my thoughts whenever they invite me to. I haven’t seen the printed version, but the online edition appears to have been edited for space or content, (or maybe both?) Here’s the original.

[Edit: As of 8:30 Monday morning, the original piece is now on Parade’s site. Many thanks.]
Last month on my Facebook page, I likened our presidential debates to the demon spawn of “Survivor” and “American Idol.” Listening to the candidates focus on each other’s physical flaws, it’s not hard to envision a whole new genre of reality TV, where our elected officials, under the thoughtful questioning of Jerry Springer, tear one another to pieces on the set of Big Brother, and then wait breathlessly as the home audience gets to eliminate the least obnoxious with a convenient text.

Of course, blaming the candidates for acting like children is like blaming Honey Boo Boo for becoming a household name. We deserve the government we have, just as surely we deserve the TV we have. Both are a creation of what we encourage, and what we tolerate. Which is why the existence of an ever-widening skills gap, now threatening to swallow us all, is nobody’s fault but our own.
The the latest data from the BLS is astonishing. Currently, 5.6 million jobs are vacant. At a time when millions of capable people are unemployed, millions of good jobs exist for anyone willing to learn a skill that’s actually in demand. But no one is lining up to take these jobs. Why? I think it’s because We the People have convinced an entire generation that a whole category of critical vocations are simply not worth pursuing.

The facts are pretty clear. The majority of jobs currently available today do NOT require a four-year degree – they require training. And many of these same jobs offer a salary that can grow much faster than vocations that require the assumption of a massive student loan. And yet, millions of students are systematically discouraged from pursuing these opportunities. Parents and guidance counselors still cling to the notion that anything short of a four-year degree will lead to some sort of vocational consolation prize.

This is the great, underlying fiction that’s allowed the skills gap to widen. It’s the reason vocational arts have vanished from high school – even as those same vocations now go begging. It’s the reason we now hold 1.3 trillion dollars in student loans. And it’s why we continue to lend money we don’t have to kids who can’t pay it back, educating them for jobs that no longer exist. Surely, if America was a contestant on The Apprentice, the new host would escort us to The Boardroom, look us squarely in our collective face and say with great dramatic flare, “You’re Fired!”

The skills gap is real, but it’s not a problem – it’s a symptom of what we value. But, like the decline of political discourse or the rise of The Amish Mafia – it’s completely in our ability to reverse. We just have to stop elevating one form of education over all the others, and begin treating all jobs for what they truly are – opportunities.

Till then, I’m afraid the Tribal Council will judge us harshly, and The Biggest Loser, will be The United States of America.

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