In a political season in which absolutely nothing appears to be sacred, what’s the one thing no candidate is talking about?
Not jobs. There has been plenty of talk about that, mostly about how it seems like there used to be so many good ones and about how all those jobs now seem to be gone — and then, of course, about who is to blame.
But when it comes to job training, the candidates have been conspicuously quiet.
The closest anyone came to making job training a campaign issue was when now-out Marco Rubio declared “welders make more money than philosophers.” As politicians are wont to do, Rubio followed that observation (which turns out to be untrue) with a sound bite, instead of an analysis.
“We need more welders and less philosophers,” he said.
What Rubio apparently missed as he tried to turn vocational training into an us-versus-them issue is that welders and philosophers have something in common: specialized education in their field.
Yes, there are some vocational fields that are growing while others are shrinking. There are some fields that pay more than others. It’s always been that way. But what has always made people employable across the board is knowledge, skills and experience — the three defining characteristics of true job training.
Credit Rubio for at least trying to invoke job training. It hasn’t exactly been a hot-button issue this political season.
But it needs to be. Here are three reasons why:
- We invest more than $1 trillion each year in education. Yet a Pew Research Center report in 2014 found that less than half of employed millennials believe their education adequately prepared them for their careers. That’s because, by and large across the United States, we’re doing a fair job educating students and a very poor job training them. The result is a waste of a very big investment — one that should get the attention of any voter who cares about how his or her tax dollars are spent.
- Generational disconnect is a story as old as time, but there is good evidence millennials feel extraordinarily disconnected from the society-sustaining institutions that were built and maintained by past generations. As a consequence, younger generations are less likely to maintain those institutions — social security, for example — once they’re in charge. One way they’re particularly disconnected is in the expectation of a long-term relationship with an employer. Job training strengthens one of the foremost institutional connections people have to their societies, because it helps ensure individuals are better at their jobs, feel invested in those jobs, and are more greatly valued by their employers, meaning they can keep those jobs longer.
- Poverty doesn’t kill communities — hopelessness does. As Harvard University sociologist William Julius Wilson has observed, after all: “A neighborhood in which people are poor but employed is different from a neighborhood in which people are poor and jobless.” The reticence of federal lawmakers to move too quickly toward raising the national minimum wage — a reasonable hesitation even for those deeply concerned with the plight of the nation’s most vulnerable people, some have argued — means that the economic difference between jobless poverty and employed poverty might not be all that significant. But for anyone who still believes that there is societal value in hope and purpose, job training should be a political issue to care about.