Jeff Johnson and Tim Walz Share Very Similar Pages Regarding “Great Jobs Without a Four-Year Degree”

One of the more important, if obvious ideas Katherine Kersten, Catrin Thorman, and I have had reinforced in working on “Great Jobs Without a Four-Year Degree” is that if a state is going to make innovative progress in generating the kinds of training opportunities and jobs that enable individuals and businesses to overcome skills gaps and prosper, a governor’s high-profile and enthusiastic support is not just a good idea, it’s essential.  This has been clear-cut in states such as Kentucky, Tennessee, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, under both Republican and Democratic governors, and it’s very good national news.

The very good Minnesota news—based on a September 19th gubernatorial debate sponsored by TwinWest Chamber of Commerce, between Republican Jeff Johnson and DFLer Tim Walz—is that both candidates recognize these increasingly central facts of economic, educational, and not least, cultural and attitudinal life.  Here is a quick sampling of what they had to say in the gratifyingly civil debate before 300 business and other leaders at the Minneapolis Marriott West hotel.  (Passages have been mildly edited for clarity.)

Commissioner Johnson: “I think I can probably speak for both of us when it comes to workforce issues.  As we travel around the state and talk to both small business owners and big business owners, workforce issues come up more often than anything else.  Even more often than regulations and taxes as posing difficult issues for employers.  So, we know how important they are and we both put some focus on it.”

Congressman Walz: “When I’m traveling I’ll take my young staff to look at training facilities, for sheet metal workers, for example.  It’s architecture.  It’s art.  It’s science.  It’s roofing, flashing and all that.  It’s important.  After a four-year apprenticeship program, people become journeymen making close to $90,000 a year with benefits.  That is a career path to the middle class—with no student debt.”

Commissioner Johnson: “There’s a belief that if a kid doesn’t get a four-year degree, he or she is just not that successful, and that is really sad.  We’ve got a senior in high school and I know if he chooses something other a four-year college, which is a possibility for him, we’re going to have a bunch of people in my community who will feel sorry for me as a parent.  Which just makes my heart sink, because we should be so proud of these kids who make the right choice for themselves, and who fill great needs in society.”

Congressman Walz: “Jeff and I have talked about this. We have children about the same age.  My daughter’s 17.  My son Gus is 11.  Talking about where the future lies, the idea of Gus coming home and telling me he wants to be an electrician will be the happiest day of my life.  Because I know there’s employability.  I know there’s a skill set.  I know it’s where his intelligence lies.  And I know the genius and nobility of the trades.”

None of this is to suggest the two candidates didn’t disagree plenty on other matters, as you would expect a progressive DFLer and a conservative Republican to do.  But when it came to the kinds of vital workforce and education issues American Experiment has been researching, writing and advocating, Congressman Walz and Commissioner Johnson shared very similar pages.