Great Jobs and a Perfectly Fitting Story

Do you recall the old line about someone looking like “he came from central casting”?  About a person who appears, not merely to be a good fit for a job or expectation, but a perfect fit?  As a metaphor, the adage may be a stretch in describing the connection between a Page One story in the Star Tribune on Wednesday (July 6) and a major American Experiment project, but maybe not.

The story was “Shortage of Skilled Workers Squeezing Twin Cities Builders.”  The project is “Great Jobs Without a Four-Year Degree: Good News for Students, Parents, and Employers.”  With the two institutions, newspaper and think tank, arriving straight from central casting in tandem, as the tough problems the Star Tribune describes and the tough problems the Center aims to alleviate fitting together perfectly.

Here are several passages from the article by Nicole Norfleet and Jim Buchta.

  • “Nearly a decade after the U.S. economy collapsed and construction workers fled the industry, Twin Cities builders and contractors are in the midst of one of their busiest years. But a shortage of skilled workers means that new projects – from modest office renovations to soaring new apartment towers – are costing more and taking longer to complete.  The situation has contributed to a housing shortage in the region.”
  • ‘“We have more work than we know what to do with,’ said Robert Heise, president of the Minnesota-North Dakota chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors.”
  • “Labor leaders say the industry has struggled to attract young people to replenish the pool of workers drained by the 2008-2009 recession, even though construction jobs pay above average wages and most require just a high school diploma. One reason for that, says Tim Worke, chief executive of the Associated Contractors of Minnesota, is that vocational training has been devalued.  ‘Everyone has been told that you have to have to have a four-year degree to be prosperous at life,’ Worke said.

The only line that I would question above is the one about “most [construction jobs] require just a high school diploma.”  It’s not for me to contradict what leaders in the field may say.  I would just add that while a high school education may get a young, or not-so-young person past doors, I don’t know many if any trades in which ongoing training isn’t required.  Or in which completing a one-year and two-year certificate program isn’t valuable.  And there is no question at all that apprenticeship programs jump start and enrich careers.

These are exactly the kinds of educational routes that my Center colleagues and I want more young men and women in Minnesota – and their parents – to know about and at least consider if they have doubts about seeking a four-year degree.

Tim Worke is right when he argues that one need not have a B.A. or B.S. “to be prosperous in life.”  He is also right when he says that “vocational training has been devalued.”  The Star Tribune was right in publishing the story it did, especially on the front page.  And as for a think tank on the right, Center of the American Experiment will continue pursuing issues and ideas like these vigorously.