A lot has been said recently about the shrinking middle class, the stagnation or even decline in middle class wages, and the job nonparticipation rate.
Meanwhile, businesses are complaining that the skills they really need are being ignored or even denigrated by both politicians and educators.
Case in point. During one area development group's public meeting they asked existing and prospective business owners what they needed to consider relocating or expanding their businesses to the area.
They responded with answers that largely followed this vein.
They need people that are willing, able and trained to do hands-on "blue-collar" tasks. They need mechanics, welders, manufacturing assembly line workers, and even freight handlers. As one business owner commented "It doesn't do any good to design a better mousetrap if there is no one to build, box and deliver it."
Salary.com reports that an entry-level welder with 0-2 years experience can expect a starting salary of over $ 27,000/yr. or $13.24/hr and a top salary of just under $48K, which is not exactly minimum wage.
One area college responded by sending out a press release touting their current and future increases in STEM classes. One of the clips played was that of someone saying that they were in business to train "the labor force of the future, and the future is not in a field or a factory."
This single incident illustrates the disconnect between the realities of day-to-day business needs and a certain intellectual naiveté about the future.
Nonprofits offer a funding avenue for some low-income students. Since they don't produce a revenue stream of their own, they are totally dependent on the largesse of both the government and private donors. These gifts and grants (or contracts) are the source of some truly big funding pools, such as the $20 million dollar scholarship fund established at Notre Dame.
That money tends to follow what's trending at the moment and that trend isn't money for trade or vocational schools.
While no one would argue that the future does indeed indicate a need for a well-educated workforce with different skills than those of the 20th century, the yardstick that we use to define "well-educated" needs to reflect an awareness of functional reality.
When education-based nonprofits set their program goals, and donors at every level write their checks or set up their trusts, it would behoove us all if they could keep that perspective in mind.
Philanthropy without relevancy is as counterproductive as no philanthropy at all.