It's a short term educational commitment, as well as cost effective.

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Politicians at the state and federal levels recently have been citing the need for the United States to do a better job focusing on its greatest resource: its people. The country needs to prepare its people for the right jobs and work with the private sector to determine future employment needs. That will mean giving the proper education to young people who are heading toward the workplace. The popular perception is that it will require young people to attain either a 2- or 4-year college degree. Unfortunately, that perception is far from fact, both from an educational readiness perspective, as well as from a future jobs availability perspective.

Here are some sobering facts to consider regarding education nationally, and in Michigan, one of the largest manufacturing states.

The national high school graduation rate for all public school students remained flat over the last decade, hovering in the 75 percent range.

Nationally, the percentage of all students who left high school with the skills and qualifications necessary to attend college is around 40 percent.

Of the 40 percent who have the skills to attend college, only 62 percent of those students enroll for their freshman year.

In Michigan, for example, the Department of Education says in the Detroit public schools—which have books—only 7 percent of the 8th graders are grade-level proficient in reading and only 4 percent are grade-level proficient in math.

The census bureau estimates there are 563,055 people age 16 or older in Detroit who could potentially work and be part of the labor force, but only 54.3 percent of these—or 305,479 individuals—actually participate in the labor force, meaning they either have a job or are looking for one.

Another 257,576 of Detroit residents age 16 or older (45.7 percent of that demographic) do not participate in the labor force. They do not have a job, and they are not looking for one.

While it’s great to believe that every student currently in high school will be an excellent candidate for our local colleges and universities, the data does not support that conclusion. We are on the brink of having another lost generation.

An alternative rarely mentioned for young people is the vocational school route. For young people that either don’t have the educational prospects, or the financial ability to pay for a college education, it’s a short-term educational commitment, as well as a cost effective commitment for students and their parents. 

One relevant example for the manufacturing community would be CNC machinists. As the baby boomer generation retires, manufacturers will need to replace this workforce. There are programs that can train a recent high school graduate or GED holder in 720 hours to be an entry level CNC machinist, earning between $12 and $15 per hour. In addition, they would learn shop math and other transferable skills. The cost per student for this program is approximately $17,000. It’s an entry into the field of manufacturing that is looking to grow and develop young people.

People are unaware that many manufacturers will train entry level workers who have post high school certification and will often pay for ambitious people to further their education while learning on the job. If someone who didn’t have college prospects can connect with an employer who grooms talent, they can potentially earn $60,000+ without having massive college debt. Compare that with a person who receives a 4-year degree in a less employable area such as art or history, while potentially racking up a six-figure college debt load; vocational programs can be a win for all stakeholders.

The government wants to reinvent our country one worker at a time. I would challenge the system to focus on both college-ready and non-college-ready individuals, and help reinvigorate the nation’s middle class.