If you think a 7.8 percent unemployment rate in this country is terrible, ask an unemployed 18-year-old how their job search is going.
I'll tell you: Not well. Today, unemployed workers between the ages of 16 and 19 years old have an unemployment rate of more than 23 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That number falls to 20.9 percent among white kids and explodes to 39.3 percent for black youths. The dismal fact is that for America's young adults, unemployment is 30 percent higher than the national average.
Youth unemployment is worse than at any time since the Great Depression and will remain stubbornly high largely because the young lack the experience and skills of older workers. So if you believe young people represent the future of this country, something better be done to turn these numbers around.
In my last column, I wrote that trade/vocational schools were making a comeback. And as this century picks up speed, the demand for skilled workers in a variety of high-paying, blue collar areas is going to accelerate. For many of today's unemployed youth, vocational training should be a no-brainer.
Vocational training requires less time to complete than a college degree since most post-secondary vocational degrees can be had in two years. Unlike your college-educated brethren, you will have readily employable skills, therefore you can be earning money in as little as 24 months while many
But the future of vocational training must do more. It must reach backward into our high school system, where technical training should start. Not everyone should go to college, nor do they want to. Yet, for the most part, our educational system is geared for that single objective. That is a big mistake.
Some students won't be attending college. Given the high cost of a college education today, many lower and middle income students already know they can't afford college. So why should they even remain in a high school dedicated to preparing them for a college they will never attend?
I say bring back shop classes. Why not allow those students to spend at least half their time in a trade area?
What about trying a Swiss or Netherland-style vocational education approach? In their systems, students in their last two-years of high school have the option of participating in a structured workplace apprenticeship, making money some of the week while spending the rest of the time in the classroom. That might explain why the Swiss unemployment rate among youths is only 5 percent.
Consider that in the Massachusetts's vocational technical high schools the dropout rate is half that of comprehensive high schools, according to a recent study by Pioneer Institute, a Boston-based research firm.
Why? Students given a choice between preparing for college or preparing to learn a skill or trade, feel they have more control of the future. In addition, the learning environments in mastering a vocation tends to hold attention and reinforce commitment.
Finally, the more a student can apprentice while in the classroom the better. Apprenticeships, in combination with academic education, will improve the transition from schools to careers and higher paying jobs. It can upgrade skills and fine tune them to the needs of our nation's companies. I say urge our nation's businesses to return to the apprenticeship and training model. It worked well here for decades and works splendidly today in Germany, Austria and other European countries.
President Obama, in his State of the Union address, appears to recognize the need for a change of direction in how we are educating and training our youth for the challenges ahead. I say he is on the right track. What do you say?
Bill Schmick is registered as an investment adviser representative and portfolio manager with Berkshire Money Management. None of this commentary is or should be considered investment advice or a promotion of Berkshire Money Management.