What ever happened to the dignity of work? The decline of “blue-collar” jobs in this country isn’t solely due to technological innovation, but an almost cult-like dedication to deriding physical labor as normatively bad.
The latest example comes from none other than our president. Barack Obama has spent the past few days touting the importance of technology, math, and science in our educational system. The president pledged roughly $3 billion from the Federal Communications Commission and private investors to get broadband access to the Internet and technology like iPads into classrooms. His rationale is simple:
“My country invested in me … and now I want America to invest in you,” Obama said. “Because in the faces of these students, these are future doctors and lawyers and engineers, scientists, business leaders. We don’t know what kinds of products, services, good work any of these students may do. But I’m betting on them. And all of us have to bet on them.”
No one is going to argue that technology isn’t important to our economy. However, access to the Internet, as he mentions, is available for the cost of a cup of coffee. There aren’t many who worry about the young not being tech savvy; in fact, in the age of the “darknet,” most parents fear the opposite.
But what about vocational training? Mike Rowe, of “Dirty Jobs” fame, has been beating this drum for years. There are, depending on what estimates you believe, 2 million job vacancies in the manufacturing industry. However, the U.S. doesn’t have the workers with skills to match these openings. With the unemployment rate currently at 6.7 percent (and much higher when you consider those who have given up looking for work), 2 million jobs would make a huge difference.
The bottom line is that college isn’t for everyone. The president seems to think that every American can have a tech startup, but that isn’t reality. No matter what innovations our brilliant entrepreneurs come up with, we will still need folks to actually build things. The president would have been smart to pitch more vocational training to schools instead of more technology. The kids already have plenty of gadgets. Let’s give them access to a hammer.