In the last issue of GEARS, I presented my thoughts for the graduating class of 2017. I congratulated this year’s graduates and made some observations about what they should consider for the future.
As the summer continues, the vast majority of that graduating class is now preparing for the next stage in their educational development: college.
It’s a familiar refrain, one that’s been promoted by high school guidance counselors for years. In fact, most schools consider college attendance numbers to be the measure of their success: “98% of our graduates go on to college,” they say with pride.
Which leaves me with one simple question: Why? Why has college become the automatic, go-to stepping stone for such a large percentage of today’s young people?
Don’t get me wrong: I’m a big believer in ongoing education. I wasn’t born knowing how to do everything that my job entails, and I’ve spent the larger part of my life learning what was needed for each step I’ve taken to get where I am today. But somehow I managed to do it without going into debt up to my eyeballs! And I know a lot of others who can say the same thing.
Recently I discovered a few interesting facts about going to college:
- Between 25% and 30% of those who begin college will drop out before the end of their first semester.
- Only 55% of the students who began college in 2008 had earned a degree six years later.
Okay, 55%: not great, but not completely abysmal. Except, how many of them graduated with degrees in journalism? English literature? Graphic design? Or, for that matter, pretty much any of the liberal arts?
Yes, it’s still an education, and an education is always a valuable thing. But what, exactly, are they going to do with those degrees? What kind of jobs are they prepared for?
Those young people, many of whom will still be paying their college debt after they’ve already begun to collect Social Security, will likely settle for jobs that involve asking, “Pickup or delivery?” or “You want fries with that?”
Again, I’m not trying to belittle education. I’m pretty sure my doctor went to college, and I’m generally glad of it. Same with my lawyer, my accountant, and the engineers who designed my car.
The problem is that, for too many people, the education has become the ultimate goal. It’s not… at least, it shouldn’t be. It’s really just the journey to get you there.
Right now, in towns and cities all across this country — and around the world! — there are businesses that are desperately searching for skilled workers to join the workforce.
They’re looking for plumbers… electricians… carpenters… and, yes, even auto technicians. Good paying, respectable jobs that don’t require a college degree, and they’re available right now.
Of course, we’re talking about skilled labor. That means there will still be a need for education, from mentors, seminars, books and manuals, and maybe even occasional time in a classroom.
It isn’t easy, but it can be done without running up a six-figure debt. In fact, in most cases, individuals earn while they learn, being paid to work while they hone their crafts.
What that means is, at the end of four years, they’ll have learned a valuable skill set and be in demand in pretty much any market in the country. And, while their fellow high school graduates were going into debt, they’ve been earning good livings: maybe enough to buy their first homes.
What’s more, each of these skilled positions can be a first step toward owning their own businesses. So there’s an even bigger potential for success for someone who’s looking for more than a job.
Right now, the most difficult situation we’re facing in the auto repair industry is finding skilled technicians to replace our aging workforce; the situation has become critical.
The last thing we need is for intelligent young people to saddle themselves with debt in an effort to learn the proper way to conjugate a verb, or what it means to say a sonnet was written in iambic pentameter. That knowledge is out there: You can learn it from a book or a simple Google search. You don’t need to go in debt for that.
Today’s shops need skilled technicians, more today than ever before, and they’re willing to pay for them. In many instances, the skills they need can only come at the shop level. You might even think of it as the University of Fred’s Transmissions… a college level education without a lifetime of debt.