Vocational education is in high demand

No other country in the industrialized world treats vocational education as shabbily as the U.S.  It’s a huge mistake (“Perks for Plumbers: Hawaiian Vacations, Craft Beer and ‘a Lot of Zen,’ “The Wall Street Journal, May 24).

Consider the market for plumbers.  Job openings reached a record 6.6 million in March.  The annual median pay for plumbers was nearly $53,000 a year in 2017, but far higher wages are routine, with six figures not uncommon.  Vocational education in high school and in community college, combined with apprenticeships, prepare young people for a gratifying career without the onerous student debt that four-year degrees create.

Yet the U.S. persists in the fiction that college is for everyone.  It is a delusion.  The appalling failure of so many students to complete their education for a bachelor’s degree should be a rude reminder, but it isn’t.  As a result, we have a generation of young people whom we have shortchanged.

The usual argument about the premium attached to possession of a bachelor’s degree compared with a high school diploma does not take into account the kind of major studied.  I seriously question whether a B.A. in gender studies, say, is as valuable in the market as a certificate in, say, plumbing.  Let’s not forget that a degree almost always comes with student debt.  Nevertheless, I doubt anything will change.  We are obsessed with college for all.

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2 Replies to “Vocational education is in high demand”

  1. Also — the income stats for plumbers probably do not include the business income earned by former plumbers who have mostly or completely stopped doing the plumbing work themselves and are instead making a significant income running a plumbing business. Same for most other skilled trades and even some relatively unskilled trades (like lawn maintenance, pool maintenance and window cleaning).

    In the DC suburbs, at least, if a small business can build a reputation for providing quality on-time service for these skilled or unskilled trades, the business can charge the homeowner a price that works out to well over $50/hr and sometimes well over $100/hr for the labor performed.


  2. Labor Lawyer: The same applies even more so here in Los Angeles, where busy professionals lack the time and expertise to attend to home problems. All skilled persons command a minimum of $100 to make a house call, plus the time it takes to make the necessary repairs. I’m in awe of those who possess such wherewithal.


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