Don’t write off college

A university degree is worth $1 million over a lifetime

By Mike Bacidore

In the United States, employee retirement will create 3.5 million unfilled manufacturing jobs, said Morten Wierod, group senior vice president, drives, at ABB, who spoke during a lunch panel at ABB Customer World in Houston. “We need more skilled workers for more industrial jobs,” he explained.

That mantra has become all too familiar in industrial circles the past few years. It seems we’ve become quick to steer young people into trades and save them from wasting their young years studying in a university.

Yes, there are young men and women who are perfect candidates for bypassing college and learning a skilled trade. And some of them might not have found their way without a push in that direction.

But it’s irresponsible and a grave disservice to urge every 16-year-old who wasn’t decided on a major to start preparing for technical trade school.

According to a Georgetown University study from 2015, “The Economic Value of College Majors,” the average college graduate will earn $1 million more over the course of a lifetime.

A million dollars doesn’t buy what it used to, but that’s a considerable amount of coin to walk away from just because you’re a teenager and don’t know what you want to be when you grow up. At that same event in Houston, I heard the first good idea regarding technical programs.

“Industry, education and government need to work together,” said Michael Wiebe, chief operations officer at Krones, who also was part of the panel discussion. “The public, who are the parents, play a role. A primary opportunity right now is the quantity of graduates in STEM. Industry is sometimes bottlenecked by the lack of those STEM graduates. We wish we had more students coming into the technical college straight out of high school. Parents want their kids to go through a four-year university program.”

Wiebe proposed a two-phase program designed to funnel more high-school graduates into technical programs. Phase I ushers them into two years of a technical program followed by a three-year apprenticeship. In Phase II, the individual continues on to two years in a university, with credits transferred from the previous two-year program to earn a bachelor’s degree, and then another three-year apprenticeship. This 10-year plan addresses the pain points of employers, educators and parents, explained Wiebe.

That’s a step in the right direction, giving students a plan to not only recapture that additional income, but to acquire those technical trade skills along the way, as well.

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