Not Your Father’s Shop Class

Career College Central summary:

  • In recent years, employment rates among young people have declined more rapidly than among any other group—just 30 percent of teens have jobs today, compared to about 50 percent in 2001. And, for many young people, this problem won’t magically disappear when the economy improves. Failing to gain important early work experience will likely result in lower wages and lower employment rates for years to come.
  • For young people without a college degree, the future is bleaker still. While workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher have enjoyed earnings growth over the last three decades, those with only high school or less have seen their incomes stagnate. Employment among men with only a high school diploma or less has consistently declined—more than 40 percent of these men are unemployed today, compared to about 25 percent in 1979.
  • The problem isn’t that young people aren’t pursuing higher education; in response to job market changes, large numbers of young Americans are, in fact, going to college—many are just not earning a degree or credential once they get there. That’s especially true for low-income and minority students. At community colleges, students can attain associate’s degrees or certificates and enjoy some labor market gains afterward. But only about a third of those who attend eventually obtain an associate’s degree, and only half gain any credential at all—a completion rate that is embarrassingly low.
  • While addressing these problems effectively requires a range of education and workforce policies, one particularly promising set of schooling practices deserves more attention and development: high-quality career and technical education (CTE). Designed to prepare high school students for employment and careers as well as for college, these promising new programs could play a critical role in reviving both the academic and employment prospects of young people.

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