America Desperately Needs Skilled Workers

Carol Hymowitz’s article in Bloomberg, “Millions of Manufacturing Jobs Go Unfilled,” makes an important point for American education. Why aren’t our high schools providing occupational education to prepare our youth for these jobs? The unfortunate answer is that American high schools have let the traditional vocational education programs go by wayside (now called career technical education). These high school career technical education programs no longer exist or they only offer a smattering of the time necessary to build employable skills. Specifically, Hymowitz says, “Donald Trump promises to bring factory jobs back to the US from overseas, but many blue-collar workers are hurt more by lack of skills than by globalization. Unskilled assembly-line work has been replaced by so-called advanced manufacturing jobs that require some computer, information technology, or other technical knowledge. In Detroit, Louisville, Grand Rapids, Michigan, and other manufacturing hubs, many employers can’t find workers with those skills.”

This unskilled workforce phenomenon really has little to do with President Trump. Yes, he says he can bring jobs back to America. However, the large-scale issue is in replacing baby boomers, who are retiring and dying at a rate of 10,000 per day. Boomers learned their skills and obtained decent pay for their work. Young Americans today don’t have the necessary skills to perform technical jobs. Hymowitz continues, “a skills gap would result in 2 million of those jobs staying unfilled. Workers are most lacking in computing and technical skills, as well as basic math problem-solving.” These are the exact technical skills taught in high school career academies. And the career academy math and computer classes are taught around the same career theme. Today’s reality is that there is an enormous disconnect between American high schools and the workplace.

Yes, American manufacturing requires millions of skilled workers. Siemens Corporation in Germany has worked with apprenticeship programs in their high schools for over a hundred years. High school career technical education can provide the needed occupational education in America as it does an Europe. A typical career academy provides 900 hours of career technical education in one program. And this doesn’t count additional coursework that complements the chosen career technical education program. The point is that high school career academies can provide training for almost any technical occupation in America. And career academies have the added bonus of engaging high school students in a career theme, which acts as an intervention that prevents young people from dropping out of high school and becoming involved in criminal activities. Thus, career academies are attractive both from the point of view of providing technical job skills and also to prevent involvement of youth in crime.

Career academies are also very successful in other career themes beyond manufacturing. There are very successful career academies in: construction, electronics, health (medical assistant, nurse assistant, EMT), finance, marketing, fashion, printing, food, and child development. Manufacturing gets a lot of press, but the reality is that there is an enormous need for skilled workers throughout the American economy. Boomers are retiring in every occupation and require replacement.

The replacement of skilled workers of America can be accomplished through high school career academies. However, this represents a revolution in the way high schools in America are operated. It will require leaders to embrace this change and lead transformation to expand career academies in American high schools. Career technical education is nothing to be ashamed of. Most Americans work with their hands for a living. It is college that is the exception. It is time for this reality to be accepted and for career academies to be expanded to prepare our youth for lifelong employment.

James C. Wilson, Ed.D.

Dr. Wilson is the author of Disposable Youth: Education or Incarceration? available on

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Dr. Wilson is the author of Disposable Youth: Eucation or Incarceration? on
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