Whenever times are tough, young people are hit the hardest. Youth unemployment soared during the 2010 recession, reaching almost 20 percent on a national level, and even today the number of young people out of work is double the national unemployment rate.
According to a recent article in the New York Times, this is happening at a time when there are 600,000 unfilled manufacturing positions nationwide. So why are there so many available jobs and yet so many unemployed young people?
The NYT article identifies a problem within our education system, where young people are not being guided towards a productive future. We are currently living in the “college for all” era where a four-year degree is seen as the goal for every high school student. Many young people emerge from college with no career prospects and huge student debt.
Meanwhile, people tend to look down on vocational education, even though this kind of practical education is a solid path to a well-paying job. Many of the available manufacturing jobs are highly-skilled and well paid, but employers simply cannot find people qualified for skilled production roles, such as machinists, technicians, operators and craft workers.
The solution seems obvious, but in order to create opportunity for young people, we need to invest in education and training. The NYT article cites MCPC (Manufacturers Caring for Pickens County) as a group whose work on a local scale provides a model for what could be happening on a national scale.
Sealevel CEO Tom O’Hanlan chairs MCPC, and its board consists of local business leaders who represent $500 million in revenue. They have been driving growth in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education in the Pickens County area, providing assistance, funding and equipment where it is needed. For example, MCPC has recently donated two 3D printers, worth $5,000, to a local middle school. These devices are hugely popular with the young students who have had enormous fun watching their creations come to life while also getting hands-on experience with a technology that is fundamentally changing the manufacturing industry.
The NYT piece also features MCPC’s involvement with the Pickens County Career and Technology Center in Liberty, S.C. Teenagers who are involved spend half of their day at their regular high school and the other half at the center where they get hands on experience in disciplines such as IT, mechatronics, electronics, machine tool technology, carpentry, cooking, masonry, mechanics, electrical work and cooking.
Many of these students come from families where neither parent has a degree. The goal is to give these students skills that allow them to succeed in the working world, and MCPC helps in this goal by working with the center’s guidance counselors to keep the curriculum up-to-date and relative to the demands of the job market.
The center has been a resounding success: 60 percent of students there continue on to technical college, while 15 percent go on to university. The other 25 percent emerge with meaningful technical qualifications that are recognized by employers, allowing these students to look for jobs with good salaries and prospects for the future.
Everyone benefits from programs such as this. Employers and communities get hard-working, talented people who are keen to make a contribution. And young people get a helping hand as they take the first steps on the career path so they won’t stumble even when times are hard.