During the recent presidential campaign, one of the few things the two major candidates for president agreed on was the need for increased technical education. Both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton said young people must be better prepared for higher salaried jobs in high demand job fields.
The reason for this rare agreement is a gap emerging in the U.S. economy. It’s a void that the majority of higher education institutions aren’t pursuing as strenuously as they could, much to the detriment of graduating students.
An Accenture study found only 18 percent of 2016 college grads expected to earn $25,000 or less per year, but more than double that —39 percent of 2014 and 2015 graduates —failed to find work that paid more than $25,000 per year.
Why are so many disappointed?
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One reason is that many young people graduate without the skills the fastest growing and most potentially lucrative job fields will need. And the graduates aren’t the only ones disappointed. In my state, a 2016 survey by the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education found that more than three-quarters of Bay State companies have difficulty finding employees with the right abilities to fill available jobs.
This lack of qualified workers is exacerbated by demographics. Health care professionals have been warning us for years that about 10,000 baby boomers in the U.S. will turn 65 every day until about the year 2030. The percentage of Americans ages 65 to 74 who are in the nation’s workforce is expected to break the 30 percent mark by 2022, according to Pew Research Center.
The impact on the manufacturing labor market alone will be tremendous. A study by Delloitte for the Manufacturing Institute found that 2.7 million manufacturing jobs will become available due to retirements within the existing workforce in the next decade and 2 million of those jobs will go unfilled because of a shortage of skilled workers. The pattern is the same in the fields that repair, maintain and improve our physical and technological infrastructure.
And this is where the skills gap meets the opportunity gap.
On the one hand, we have millions of young people who are seeking pathways to higher paying jobs and upward mobility. On the other end, we have large numbers of high-paying jobs in manufacturing, skilled trades, and engineering technology opening up due to an aging workforce.
Higher education can serve as the bridge to connect these young people with the industries that are experiencing a skills-shortage. If we equip those who need help the most with the skills that are in most demand, we can convert the tsunami to a rising tide to lift people, families, communities and our economy.
But we should act quickly, so younger workers can benefit from the wisdom of the older workers before they retire. At our college, we often meet retiring engineers, technicians and trades professionals eager to mentor the next generation, sharing their experiences and savvy. While these folks come from a range of industries, they share a sense of opportunity and responsibility in helping young people navigate the waters of today’s workplace.
With statistics showing nearly a third of U.S. workers over age 50 and employees over 65 outnumbering teenage workers for the first time since 1948, there is no time to waste. Let’s make post-secondary education accessible and affordable for these students, so we can prepare the next generation of leaders.
The right education can give students a brighter economic future while drawing on the experience of older workers and preventing a possible disaster for the U.S. economy.
Anthony Benoit is the president of Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology, an affordable private, nonprofit college that educates urban youth in the Boston region and places them in good jobs in growth industries.