How do we make tech jobs attractive to youth?

Published 11:47 pm Sunday, March 24, 2013

On Friday, USA Today had a special section, Employing American, in which it explored the declining number of skilled laborers in the United States.

Even as the national unemployment rate hovers around 7.7 percent, there are approximately 600,000 skilled positions going unfilled.

And the problem is expected to get worse. The average skilled worker is 56 years old, and not enough young people are getting the skills they need to stand in the gap as these workers retire.

By 2030, 79 million skilled laborers will have retired, while only 41 million new workers will enter the workforce.

Conversely, the newspaper reported, more than half of the people with a bachelor’s degree are unemployed or underemployed.

Few high schools still teach industrial arts and few students are aware of the job opportunities available to skilled workers.

Why? Because we’ve spent decades telling students that college is the only way, and built high school curriculums around college prep.

Many skilled jobs require some post-secondary training, to prepare students for jobs in computer-assisted drafting, carpentry, machining, medical technology or culinary arts, to name a few.

In Alabama, the legislature is considering a plan to borrow $50 million to improve outdated equipment in high school technology programs. The bill has cleared the house and is out of committee in the Senate. It has gained bipartisan support – a rare thing in Alabama – on stories of students learning welding with 40-year-old equipment.

The good news here is that newer equipment might make the classes more appealing to Alabama’s students, which in turn gives our state more prepared workers. Further, there is evidence that career tech programs help keep at risk students in school.

Right here in our own back yard, high school students have an awesome opportunity to earn college credits by partcipating in dual enrollment classes preparing them for careers in aircraft maintenance through Enterprise Community College. The classes are taught at the South Alabama Regional Airport.

Some way, we have to adjust the societal norms and encourage students to pursue these opportunities. The health of our current and future economies depend upon it.