Trouble in the Progressive Utopia

 

imageAsk a liberal to describe his ideal society, and you won’t have to wait long to hear about everyone attending a four-year college and being subsequently rewarded with a high-paying job in the professions, or the high-tech or service industries (and commuting to work via public public transit, of course). No place in the country is this closer to reality than Massachusetts, which is, unsurprisingly, where many of the people who peddle this vision get started on the path they think everyone else should take. Overall, it’s worked out reasonably well here: the Greater Boston Area may be expensive and the state may be highly regulated, but it out-preforms the nation on a number of economic metrics and is a growing leader in the technology, healthcare, biotech, and education industries; the I-495 corridor is awash in construction, development, and expansion much of it in the aforementioned glitzy industries. We’re not quite Scandinavia, but we try.

But according the Boston Globe, there seems to be a problem: we’re seriously short of people with vocational skills:

Most of the projected job openings in Massachusetts over the next seven years will not require a four-year college degree, but an already strained vocational education system will be unable to train enough people to fill those vacancies, according to a report to be released Monday. It warns that the state faces severe labor shortages in health care, manufacturing, and other key industries as an expanding economy and retiring baby boomers create some 1.2 million job openings by 2022.

Such shortages could undermine one of the state’s key competitive advantages — a skilled, productive workforce — making it harder to attract and retain companies, and slowing economic growth, the report, to be released by Northeastern University, finds.

“In the next two or three years, you’ll see serious shortages,” said Jack Healy, executive director of the Massachusetts Manufacturing Extension Partnership, a Worcester nonprofit that helps manufacturers stay in business. “We don’t have a pipeline that exists in this state that’s ready and capable of replacing those workers.”

The report estimates that three out of five openings will require less than a bachelor’s degree, although many will need vocational training, post-secondary certificates, and associate degrees. But the state’s vocational schools and community colleges — many with long waiting lists — don’t have the capacity to meet this demand, the report concluded.

As our own Rob Long and others have noted, a smart high school graduate willing to use his hands and/or get the right certification can have years of earnings under him while his peers are still accruing debt for degrees that may be over-valued. Vocational and technical education are hardly tickets to riches — nor is anything a guarantee in life — but they’re a means to solid, upstanding employment with a lot of opportunity… especially for those willing to root on occasion for the Patriots, Red Sox, Bruins, or Celtics.

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  1. Merina Smith Inactive
    Merina Smith
    @MerinaSmith

    My brother is a mechanical genius and did not attend college.  Instead he started his own business supplying parts for rigs in the oil industry. Show him any obscure part and he knows where it goes and how to get or fashion a replacement.   My other brothers and I are far more educated and far poorer.  If one of my kids had shown aptitude for mechanical or trade work, we’d have pushed them that way in a heartbeat, but they are all eggheads like their parents.  We need to get over the idea that college is for everyone, and we need to beef up our vocational training.  I just saw a clip of Marco Rubio making this very argument.  One more reason to support him.

    • #1
  2. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    What are the prospects for a 40-year-old “communications generalist” who goes back to community college to become an electrician/plumber/carpenter/etc.?

    • #2
  3. Eric Hines Inactive
    Eric Hines
    @EricHines

    Tom Meyer, Ed.: the I-495 corridor is awash in construction, development, and expansion

    Who’s doing the actual work of that construction?  The trades.  How many of those tradesmen are indigenous to the corridor?  To the Boston area?  To Massachusetts?

    There’s a hint there, too, to anyone paying attention.

    Eric Hines

    • #3
  4. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    That is why the left is convinced mass immigration of poor people is a necessity. They want that permanent underclass to do their plumbing.

    • #4
  5. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Well, it would probably be more satisfying than creating shelfware.

    • #5
  6. Brian Clendinen Member
    Brian Clendinen
    @BrianClendinen

    EJHill:That is why the left is convinced mass immigration of poor people is a necessity. They want that permanent underclass to do their plumbing.

    When it comes to wages, plumbers are not underclass. They make on average as much as a new college grad. If you have your own business you can easily be pulling in more than 95% of all college grads.

    • #6
  7. Pseudodionysius Inactive
    Pseudodionysius
    @Pseudodionysius

    Misthiocracy:What are the prospects for a 40-year-old “communications generalist” who goes back to community college to become an electrician/plumber/carpenter/etc.?

    You could come work for me in my new Egyptian Pyramid Grain Storage Bin business.

    • #7
  8. The King Prawn Inactive
    The King Prawn
    @TheKingPrawn

    When their low flow toilets back up or the furnace goes out we’ll just laugh at them.

    • #8
  9. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    Tom Meyer, Ed.: But according the Boston Globe, there seems to be a problem: we’re seriously short of people with vocational skills

    I’m assuming this report has an agenda, and that agenda is probably to make a case for importing immigrant labor. Or it is to beef up the vocational education budgets.

    In Massachusetts vocational education for any young person makes sense because there is continuing education available for switching careers or getting into management or running a company. I don’t mind giving young people the advice to pursue the trades as long as we give them the additional advice to continue working nights on a full four-year degree. We have some excellent continuing-education schools in the Boston area and throughout Massachusetts.

    First, everyone should be learning all the time. People should never be out of school, even if school is just Bible study.

    Second, there are many things a person can do with a college degree like getting into politics that he or she cannot do very easily without one. If you are running for a local office, the chances are very high that your competition will have a BA or better. In Massachusetts the percentage of people who have a bachelor’s is projected to peak at 61 percent by 2020.

    I’ve seen shifts in the technology or construction job markets that have created problems for people. A four-year degree gives people some flexibility that they wouldn’t otherwise have.

    • #9
  10. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    A high school degree says nothing today about what a person actually knows, but you wouldn’t want to go through life without one. The same is true of a bachelor’s degree.

    It’s a self-esteem issue.

    I would tell any young person in Massachusetts to take your time, enjoy your education, explore the trades or technical areas, but don’t stop working toward a college degree until you get one. And even after that, always be in school somehow somewhere.

    Certainly there are other things that have the same status as a college degree such as military service. But short of those, I’d advise people to get it done one way or the other. You’ll be glad you have it.

    And it doesn’t have to cost a lot these days because of the online degree programs.

    It gives people some financial security and career flexibility that people won’t have otherwise.

    • #10
  11. Frank Soto Contributor
    Frank Soto
    @FrankSoto

    File this under nothing to worry about.  Such a shortage will cause the cost of such services to increase until more people fill those positions.

    The invisible hand is awesome.

    • #11
  12. Freeven Member
    Freeven
    @Freeven

    Tom Meyer, Ed.:Overall, it’s worked out reasonably well here: the Greater Boston Area may be expensive and the state may be highly regulated, but it out-preforms the nation on a number of economic metrics and is a growing leader in the technology, healthcare, biotech, and education industries…

    Massachusetts has made progress on the education front, but a good deal of that progress has come at the expense of New Hampshire. Families with kids who can’t pass the MCAS graduation test are flooding into southern NH and putting a burden on local schools. Unfortunately, these families are bringing their politics with them as well.

    • #12
  13. Eric Hines Inactive
    Eric Hines
    @EricHines

    The King Prawn:When their low flow toilets back up or the furnace goes out we’ll just laugh at them.

    No furnaces.  They’ll be using Trombe Walls.

    In those winters.

    Eric Hines

    • #13
  14. Eric Hines Inactive
    Eric Hines
    @EricHines

    MarciN: I don’t mind giving young people the advice to pursue the trades as long as we give them the additional advice to continue working nights on a full four-year degree.

    There’s no necessary reason for a tradesman to spend time or money on a four-year degree.  It doesn’t add anything to what he already knows how to do.  Run his business?  The best way to help him run his business is to get rid of all the froo-froo regulations–and too often unnecessary certifications–that overcomplexify his company management and jack up his costs.  It’s a circular waste of money to make him get a degree to learn how to deal with that.

    Self esteem?  Must be a Massachusetts thing.  The tradesmen who maintain the various aspects of my house and yard are very proud of what they do.  One of the Mom and Pop operations, too, have no four-year degree among them or their son, and nobody feels less than me and my three Masters degrees for that.  They do critical stuff I can’t do, and we both know it.

    Keep learning, certainly.  But there’s no need to get a degree to certify to himself that he did the learning.

    Eric Hines

    • #14
  15. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    I hope that works for the individual over his or her lifetime. But it’s a gamble that he or she won’t at some point wish to have a degree.

    It isn’t a Massachusetts thing. I hope it is generational thing. I’ve known too many people who lacked self-confidence because they didn’t have a degree. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

    But perhaps with people like you out there saying over and over that a college degree is not an indication of intelligence, people like my father-in-law will no longer feel something was missing in his life. I hope so.

    I’ve known many people who just never felt as good about themselves as they should have because they lacked a college education. It’s not right, but it’s how they felt.

    • #15
  16. Eric Hines Inactive
    Eric Hines
    @EricHines

    MarciN:I hope that works for the individual over his or her lifetime. But it’s a gamble that he or she won’t at some point wish to have a degree.

    I’m not sure it’s any more of a gamble than the ones I took getting those degrees.  I’ve used exactly zero of them in my working life.  The knowledge has proved useful in ways not related to the degrees, but I didn’t have to get the degrees to get the knowledge.

    The only advantage the undergraduate degree gave me was to let me miss the draft (my number was 2) and to become an officer instead of an enlisted man.  But even there, it’s the sergeants–the tradesmen–who are doing the actual work in so many aspects of the military.

    And it’s money I’ll never get back.  There are opportunity costs in every choice we make.

    Eric Hines

    • #16
  17. Richard Finlay Inactive
    Richard Finlay
    @RichardFinlay

    Frank Soto:File this under nothing to worry about. Such a shortage will cause the cost of such services to increase until more people fill those positions.

    The invisible hand is awesome.

    I dunno … in Massachusetts the notion of assigning people to a “career” track early in life (and preserving a proper diversity ratio in — at least some of the more desirable tracks) might receive a more sympathetic reception.  Planning for technical skills requirements, y’know….  Why, we should probably start now to create the degree program at Harvard so we will have people qualified to do the planning.

    • #17
  18. Richard Finlay Inactive
    Richard Finlay
    @RichardFinlay

    MarciN: I’ve known many people who just never felt as good about themselves as they should have because they lacked a college education. It’s not right, but it’s how they felt.

    That’s how people used to feel about a High School diploma and. before that, about being able to read/write/etc.  If a degree is essential for self-esteem, it will soon be mandatory to award one for attendance or participation, regardless of knowledge/skills gained.  (See most “studies” degrees.)  Will it then be necessary to get an advanced degree to feel good about one’s self?  Educational inflation is a spiral that has no end.  I miss the old days when the fashionable thing was to declaim about the “dignity of labor.”

    • #18
  19. Frank Soto Contributor
    Frank Soto
    @FrankSoto

    Richard Finlay:

    Frank Soto:File this under nothing to worry about. Such a shortage will cause the cost of such services to increase until more people fill those positions.

    The invisible hand is awesome.

    I dunno … in Massachusetts the notion of assigning people to a “career” track early in life (and preserving a proper diversity ratio in — at least some of the more desirable tracks) might receive a more sympathetic reception. Planning for technical skills requirements, y’know…. Why, we should probably start now to create the degree program at Harvard so we will have people qualified to do the planning.

    I am in the process of filling out the forms that will enable us to requisition the forms that are needed to create a planning committee for the purposes of establishing the feasibility of such a planning committee.

    • #19
  20. GLDIII Reagan
    GLDIII
    @GLDIII

    I met my Plumber in 1986 standing in line @ the local lumber yard when were both building our homes (as in swing hammers and occasionally mashing thumbs). I got him to pull my permit and do the rough plumbing, I did some work for him. Agewise we are contemporaries, and as I found out years later we both have engineering degrees. He used the plumbing trade as a moonlighting asset to work his way thru college, and when he was done with getting his degree, he decided that the office environment was not where his heart was. I still occasionally use his services when the chore I need done involves specialty tools I cannot fathom using twice.

    Well about five years ago it has been his sons coming instead because Dad has retired. ( I remember when they were little hellions when he visitied in the early 90’s) . His net worth well exceeds mine, he retired earlier (I still have at least two, probably four before bailing on the paying job) and he passed on something tangible to his boys who have expended his business. (I still have to call his daughter in law a few time to get a bill, I suspect that somethings transcend commerce with them)

    I sent my Boys to a Parochial schools, and almost half of the parents were small business owners of essentially trade or manufacturing operations. Their drop off vehicles suggest they are doing well and can write then off as business expenses.

    Tell me how we should all go to college?

    • #20
  21. AIG Inactive
    AIG
    @AIG

    Yawn!

    Great. That wouldn’t you expect this to be reflected in wages?

    The old and tired narrative of “liberals force on us this vision of 4-year college” etc etc is missing one key factor: people aren’t stupid. People don’t respond to life narratives from newspapers and politicians.

    People respond to…wait for it…incentives!

    If there were such a shortage of technicians and laborers, then their wages would increase, and more people would go into those fields. Same as happened in ND (during the oil boom, we’ll see how well it pans out in the next few years after massive layoffs).

    Don’t people respond to similar incentives to go into college as well? Are you denying that, on average (regardless what Rob Long may say), college education provides substantial benefits in earnings, and these benefits become greater in STEM fields, and even greater in graduate degrees?

    People aren’t stupid, people respond to incentives, and we have a fairly well functioning labor market (about as close to a perfect market as you’ll get). So, where’s the wage increase?

    • #21
  22. AIG Inactive
    AIG
    @AIG

    GLDIII: Tell me how we should all go to college?

    Nobody is telling you should “all” go to college. On the other hand, anecdotal evidence of “I know a plumber who makes a comfortable living” is precisely the sort of thing that is meaningless.

    Counterfactual: mid-career plumber’s salary is $45,000. Mid-career engineer with BS degree salary is $80,000. Roughly twice.

    Does this mean there aren’t plumbers making a lot more than that? No. Does this mean there aren’t engineers making a lot less? No.

    It means that the data on the overall population, however, certainly paints a different picture. And yet the popular narrative is to throw all that away and say “oh I know a guy!”

    Then again, if we all followed your logic and we all become plumbers and construction workers, what would happen to the wages of plumbers and construction workers (average mid-career ~$35k)?

    I’m not sure careers of $35-45k mid-career range are the sort of examples you want to use, unless “I know a guy!” is sufficient argumentation.

    • #22
  23. AIG Inactive
    AIG
    @AIG

    Merina Smith:  I just saw a clip of Marco Rubio making this very argument

    Marco Rubio the lawyer with a 2014 income of > $900k? Oh ok. Yeah, he would have done better as a plumber.

    • #23
  24. GLDIII Reagan
    GLDIII
    @GLDIII

    AIG:

    GLDIII: Tell me how we should all go to college?

    Nobody is telling you should “all” go to college. On the other hand, anecdotal evidence of “I know a plumber who makes a comfortable living” is precisely the sort of thing that is meaningless.

    Counterfactual: mid-career plumber’s salary is $45,000. Mid-career engineer with BS degree salary is $80,000. Roughly twice.

    Does this mean there aren’t plumbers making a lot more than that? No. Does this mean there aren’t engineers making a lot less? No.

    It means that the data on the overall population, however, certainly paints a different picture. And yet the popular narrative is to throw all that away and say “oh I know a guy!”

    Then again, if we all followed your logic and we all become plumbers and construction workers, what would happen to the wages of plumbers and construction workers (average mid-career ~$35k)?

    I’m not sure careers of $35-45k mid-career range are the sort of examples you want to use, unless “I know a guy!” is sufficient argumentation.

    AIG

    I have noted your comments in the other post on the value of college topic that is running hot tonight.

    However I want you to reexamine that my post did include discussion that a huge chunk of parents I knew (close to half) from my boys parochial schools who were ponying up about 100K/child for a K to 12 private education were in the trades. Most of these folks in fact were non college educated, service industry based, small business owners. Of those I was close to, I knew of roofers, home construction, landscaping, and HVAC.  They started as journeymen, but had the perseverance to make their way in the world being there own bosses. I focused on my plumber because he was unusual because he did get a degree, in engineering no less, and decide the work conditions and the money was better on his own. That to me is more than anecdotal, yet I suspect your standards still will not be satisfied.

    I have several degrees in Engineering and I can firmly state that it is not for everyone. The failure rate at my humble University of Maryland was about 3/4 of those who enrolled. My conversation with one of their recruiters last month (number two boy is heading there next fall) said it is better now (about 1/2), but they also now have much higher entrance standards… (Lucky me).  When we graduated, a ceremony was held in the University’s field house.  As each college was conferred their “honors, privileges, and degrees” the groups stands up.  In a sea of over 1800 students, the Colleges of Math, Physics and Engineering group (note they combined us) of less that 100 stood up. We stood to the chants of “Boring, Boring, Boring”  Some idiots in our ranks chanted back that “We have Jobs”. They were right, we were right, a sore point for sure since we were still entrenched in Jimmy Carter’s economic malaise, and thus we started getting pelted with the soul soothing bottles the other folks consumed during the long ceremony. Most of the rest of the folks who graduated that day had BA’s, maybe another few hundred had degrees in the Biological Sciences, but knew that they had more years to go before they had marketable credentials.

    We do not live in a Lake Woebegon society were everyone is above average and we can all get STEM degrees, and I believe that society has been passing judgement those who went to college by the levels of compensation their BA’s are seeing in the market. They were angry back then and as the economy has gotten soft they are angry again.

    On a final note I asked my wife who is the Comptroller for a National Pension fund for Plumbers and Steamfitters about compensation since they track each individual’s income who are part of the union in order to determine the size of their retirement benefits. She noted that the 45K was low since it does not include the typical overtime they are all working, even with our uninspired economy. Their pensions are based on total lifetime compensation, not mid career base salary. They are earning more than the 45K, a lot more, and it is hard work. Maybe not cotton field levels of hard work, but sore at the end of the day levels.

    I can assure you I did not see overtime or time and half in my salad days of doing untold hours of uncompensated time because, you know Engineers are professionals. Not complaining, just observing the nature of our markets.

    • #24
  25. AIG Inactive
    AIG
    @AIG

    GLDIII: That to me is more than anecdotal, yet I suspect your standards still will not be satisfied.

    It’s still anecdotal however, and the data on the overall population is certainly different.

    GLDIII: I have several degrees in Engineering and I can firmly state that it is not for everyone.

    I have an engineering degree too. Of course its not for everyone. No one said everyone has the right to an engineering degree. So this is a straw-man argument.

    GLDIII: She noted that the 45K was low since it does not include the typical overtime they are all working, even with our uninspired economy. Their pensions are based on total lifetime compensation, not mid career base salary. They are earning more than the 45K, a lot more, and it is hard work.

    The same applies to every profession. I got paid loads of overtime as an engineer too.

    GLDIII: We do not live in a Lake Woebegon society were everyone is above average and we can all get STEM degrees

    Of course not, but that’s not an argument anyone is making.

    • #25
  26. AIG Inactive
    AIG
    @AIG

    GLDIII: The failure rate at my humble University of Maryland was about 3/4 of those who enrolled.

    Well I can’t speak of Jimmy Carter era experiences. University of Maryland’s Clark School of Engineering is ranked between 6th and 16th in the nation, and has some 4,000+ students today. (overall all the science schools there are about 30% of the student body, not counting econ and some others who are not separate schools)

    So I’m assuming they are graduating a lot more than 100 people a year now.

    Either way, if your argument is about STEM degrees overall being a “small” part of total students, STEM degrees comprise about 50% of undergrad degree graduates today (if we count economics as STEM, and economics undergrad degrees outperform even many engineering degrees in earnings).

    • #26
  27. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    I would rather see public schools–and I mean, importantly the schools, not the parents–encourage all of the kids to try to go to college, simply because I don’t like the idea of the schools’ tracking kids into vocational programs before those kids have had a chance to try their academic wings. Also, there is a known late-bloomer phenomenon that would rarely be recognized once students were tracked by vocational or academic aptitude.

    I wish people would separate parents’ guiding their children in academic and career directions from the public schools’ arbitrarily tracking kids. Our testing and evaluation methods are far from perfect and objective.

    We need to be very careful with this new notion that we should be discouraging some children from trying to go to college. If we go that route, it will affect student achievement throughout the K through 12 years. Many kids will not try as hard as they do now.

    My school district on the Cape went through many years of debate on tracking students. The person I thought got it right was a middle school principal who said that tracking was great as long as it was flexible and students and their parents knew the students could move around within the system. In other words, as long as the students could see how they could move up or down, it was a positive incentive.

    But the standards, because it is competitive, must be fair and consistent. Otherwise, tracking will hurt kids.

    • #27

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