Vocational Education: Preparing Workers for the Job Market of the Future
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Some of today's college graduates are leaving school with shaky job prospects and mountains of student loan debt. Lingering high unemployment in some areas and fierce competition for jobs isn't helping matters, and those without a college degree often have it the worst. Imagine having a high school education and competing against college graduates for entry-level and even menial jobs. Unfortunately, that's the reality for many of today's young people as they transition to adulthood and fight to begin some kind of career.
Because of this harsh reality, the traditional wisdom about higher education needs to change with the times. Many of the careers of the future require knowledge of a specific skill or trade, and the traditional four-year degree isn't always the right fit. To prepare students for the jobs of the future, we need to reinvent higher education to accommodate everyone- not just those who choose a traditional educational path.
Facing a shortage of skilled workers
In an act of foreshadowing, a recent Manpower Group study illustrates the fact that need for vocational workers is already starting to grow. According to the study, 40 percent of U.S. employers report difficulty filling jobs, with the top reason being an overall lack of "hard skills" and technical competencies. Employers who participated in the study reported that many of the hardest jobs to fill were vocational in nature. In fact, the number one spot went to skilled trade workers. Several other vocational careers made an appearance on the study's top ten list as well, including drivers, engineers, nurses, laborers and IT staff.
Because of these shortages, some employers claim that they're coming up short in their ability to meet their client's needs. According to the Manpower Group study, 45 percent of those surveyed claim that the skills gap in the workforce is reducing their ability to satisfy clients, and another 37 percent claim it is reducing their productivity. To carry on as usual, 45 percent of employers admit to exploring new pools of talent and 25 percent admit to hiring unskilled workers with the hope that they can be trained.
The fact is, employers need skilled workers more than ever, and they are willing to take drastic measures to recruit and retain employees who have learned a skill or mastered a trade. Since some vocational careers are in higher demand than others, let's explore some top vocational jobs and industries where employment is expected to increase the most.
Health care: vocational education in practice
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS.gov), an aging population in the U.S. is expected to increase the demand for medical services and lead to an increase in employment for many in vocational careers. Take registered nurses, for instance. The BLS predicts that employment for nurses will increase 19 percent from 2012 to 2022, much faster than the average for all occupations combined. Employment for medical assistants is also expected to surge, with a 29 percent increase in employment predicted nationally from 2012 to 2022. Several other careers in health care should expect huge increases in employment from 2012 to 2022, according to the BLS:
- Dental assistants: 25 percent
- Occupational therapy assistants and aides: 41 percent
- Physical therapy assistants and aides: 41 percent
- Radiologic and MRI technologists: 21 percent
Vocational careers in skilled trades
The story is basically the same when it comes to skilled trades, including those that require physical labor. According to BLS data, U.S. population growth is expected to spur the creation of new jobs in a wide range of high-skill industries. The BLS projects that employment for carpenters, for example, will grow as much as 24 percent from 2012 to 2022, which is more than twice the national average for all occupations combined. Some other vocational careers that will see an increase in employment opportunities over the next decade, according to the BLS:
- Brickmasons and blockmasons: 36 percent
- Construction managers: 16 percent
- Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters: 21 percent
- Stonemasons: 29 percent
Vocational careers: the final frontier
Whether you're considering a career in health care, construction or a skilled trade, the numbers don't lie. Research shows that many of the jobs of the future will be of vocational nature, focusing on specific skills, talents and trades. Fortunately, state and local governments have begun to recognize the need for an emphasis on vocational training and act accordingly. Even the federal government has gotten involved in the effort, including the Trade Act of 1974 which was amended in 2009 to include the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) Grant Program. This program and others hope to bolster activity in vocational training by providing additional funding to vocational career training programs in high-skill fields like manufacturing, transportation, health care and the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and math.
The Obama administration also proposed the Community College to Career Fund in a 2013 budget request, a program that would provide an $8 billion dollar investment in community colleges that provide vocational training for in-demand industries such as health care, logistics, transportation and advanced manufacturing. The president hopes to work with Congress to enact this initiative and begin preparing today's young people for the high skill jobs of the future.
Vocational careers may not be for everyone, but they do provide an alternative career path for students who don't necessarily want to pursue a traditional four-year degree. And, in an economy where even college graduates are fighting just to get their foot in the door, learning a skill or trade in an in-demand industry sounds like an excellent idea.