In praise of ap­pren­tice­ship

Ap­pren­tice­ship pro­grams are a nec­es­sary part of a grow­ing econ­omy

The Washington Times Daily - - COMMENTARY - By David A. Keene

My fa­ther was the pres­i­dent of the Rock­ford, Illinois La­bor Coun­cil when I was a kid. He was a ma­chin­ist at a time when Rock­ford and Cincin­nati were the cen­ters of the na­tion’s ma­chine tool in­dus­try. I re­mem­ber that many of those work­ing as ma­chin­ists in Rock­ford back then were Hun­gar­ian refugees; skilled ma­chin­ists who had fled af­ter Soviet tanks had put down their at­tempt to top­ple their Com­mu­nist gov­ern­ment in 1956.

These men had been trained in Europe, served ap­pren­tice­ships there and once they got to this coun­try helped make this coun­try a man­u­fac­tur­ing be­he­moth. Over the years I be­came con­vinced that we owed more than we could ever re­pay to these refugees from the Com­mu­nists and Nazis who came

with skills we never re­ally in­stilled in work­ers here. We didn’t have to; Europe sent us theirs.

They ended up run­ning the fac­tory floors of the Fifties and Six­ties, but as no more are com­ing, we are go­ing to have to train our own if we want to re­vi­tal­ize our man­u­fac­tur­ing sec­tor and pre­pare the men and women of to­day for the jobs that re­vi­tal­iza­tion will cre­ate. Heck, we are go­ing to have to give them the train­ing they could use to fill the many good un­filled jobs that ex­ist al­ready.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion may be on the road to do­ing just that if last week’s an­nounce­ment that ap­pren­tice­ship pro­grams will be at the heart of its la­bor pol­icy. Fewer and fewer Amer­i­cans since the

Six­ties have sought to de­velop the skills to fill these jobs be­cause young peo­ple have been told by cul­tural, ed­u­ca­tional lead­ers and politi­cians that un­less they go to col­lege they will be for­ever looked upon as fail­ures and won’t earn the money to feed their fam­i­lies. The na­tion’s elites have made it clear in ev­ery way pos­si­ble that those Amer­i­cans who work with their hands are some­how in­fe­rior to those who earn de­grees in, well, any­thing.

Re­mem­ber “Amer­i­can Graf­fiti,” the iconic movie about the last sum­mer of a group of high school bud­dies. One of them, a pop­u­lar kid in high school, doesn’t go to col­lege like his friends. He is viewed sadly as a loser who will be left be­hind as his friends go on to a big­ger, bet­ter and pre­sum­ably more re­ward­ing fu­tures. One of our bud­dies in that sum­mer af­ter grad­u­a­tion looked at the rest of us as we pre­pared to head off to col­lege and said he didn’t want to go, but wanted in­stead to open his own busi­ness, work with his hands and re­main a part of the com­mu­nity in which he grew up.

He didn’t feel like a loser and wasn’t; he turned out to be one of the wealth­i­est and hap­pi­est of the bunch. But it was early days; by the Sev­en­ties, so­ci­ety would have made it clear to him that only a loser would choose the course he found so at­trac­tive. There is ob­vi­ously noth­ing wrong with go­ing on to col­lege or even with pur­su­ing knowl­edge for its own sake. For some that is the right path, but oth­ers may want to choose a dif­fer­ent path and they shouldn’t be looked down on for do­ing so; it’s what they might pre­fer so they can do what they want rather than try to be what some­one else thinks they should be.

The way in which our elites look at all this was on pub­lic dis­play last year dur­ing the Demo­cratic pri­maries as pres­i­den­tial wannabes out­did each other in ar­gu­ing that ev­ery­one ought to go to col­lege, and to fa­cil­i­tate just that col­lege should be free like air, wa­ter and wel­fare.

Ap­pren­tice­ship pro­grams and vo­ca­tional train­ing have proven suc­cess­ful for many here as well as in Europe and the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion should be ap­plauded for rec­og­niz­ing their value. Ninety per­cent of those who com­plete ap­pren­tice­ship pro­grams find a job wait­ing, ac­cord­ing to The Wall Street Jour­nal, and those jobs start at about $60,000 a year.

There are about half a mil­lion peo­ple in such pro­grams right now, but that com­pares with more than 13 mil­lion young peo­ple at­tend­ing our col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties, many of whom will end up liv­ing with their par­ents af­ter grad­u­a­tion while they work nights flip­ping ham­burg­ers at McDon­ald’s for the sim­ple rea­son that they learned lit­tle dur­ing the four years it took them to be cer­ti­fied as a col­lege grad­u­ate that will help them earn a liv­ing.

Oth­ers may want to choose a dif­fer­ent path and they shouldn’t be looked down on for do­ing so; it’s what they might pre­fer so they can do what they want rather than try to be what some­one else thinks they should be.

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