Skilled Jobs Gap

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05 Jul Skilled Jobs Gap

Christina Landreth is currently a senior at UTC who is studying Business Marketing.  She is the summer marketing intern for Pathways of Prosperity and Tennessee Association of Manufacturers. 

As a first generation high school graduate, I am well aware of the skills gap in our country.

Upon high school graduation, the attitude of educators is often “if you want to be successful, you must go to college,” so I did. College for all, right? I went to UTC, and I loved it. I had so much fun and made so many friends freshman year.  Then, sophomore year came, and fifty percent of the students I made friends with were gone. Junior year came, and even more left. Why did they leave?

College just wasn’t for them. They despised sitting in a classroom, they were depressed about leaving their families, or felt bad about being in debt up to their ears from student loans.  Some felt guilty about doing poorly in school and wasting their parent’s hard-earned money.  The list goes on and on. The reasons for leaving are not important; what is important is that they left. Many students need a distinct goal in mind in order to excel.  They need to know there is a light at the end of the tunnel and relevance as to why they are putting in the effort. What if they could see a clear career path ending in a two-year certification leading to a career with a great salary?

Little did my friends know, there are technical certifications out there that would have allowed them to maximize their natural strengths. They could have capitalized on their abilities and potentially made more money than they would have by trying to obtain a degree in something unnatural to them.  If they were able to make the most of their natural ability, their chances of success would greatly increase.  People may drop out because they feel discouraged and overwhelmed, not because they are lazy and want nothing for their future. I am certain if my friends had known about the successful, income-generating alternatives to obtaining a four-year degree, they would have taken them. Maybe they did know about the alternatives, but were blocked by the stigma often associated with skilled jobs, despite the current demand for such workers.

For the remainder of my friends who stayed in college, many were hanging on for the sake of other people.  They were getting a degree because “that’s what successful people do,” right? Senior year approached. Many of my friends were older than me and started graduating.  They were so happy about their accomplishment, but then what? A large percentage of them couldn’t find jobs in their field or found they hated the career they had been preparing for the past four years.  The number of jobs requiring a four-year degree remain constant, but the “college for all” message has caused a noticeable imbalance in the number of skilled workers in our country.

To be clear, I am not conveying the message that people shouldn’t go to college. From what I have seen in my college experience, it seems four-year degrees are not for everyone, and do not secure a paycheck. So, why did I choose to stay in school and continue studying marketing? I didn’t stay because marketing is my absolute life passion and dream; I stayed because I have a natural strength in the field of marketing and I know there are many different jobs I could excel in by obtaining a business marketing degree. Realizing my natural talent has allowed me to see my potential in the field, and all the opportunities that lie ahead. It made me eager to learn, gain experience, and work towards success in this career field. I knew it was obtainable for me.  Without this natural talent, I would have been apathetic, like many of my peers who were trying to get their degree for other reasons.

I believe the “college for all” mentality just won’t work.  What will work is maximizing natural talents and abilities, and following a career path that best suits the talent. Promoting a four-year degree without considering other viable careers requiring a certification is detrimental to our society and future generations.  In order to meet the needs of the work force, students need to capitalize on opportunities that will exploit their gifts, and society must realize alternative education and skilled degrees are a positive thing, especially when industries are crying for skilled workers. The reality is a Bachelor’s degree does not guarantee employment; sometimes it results in debt, frustration and a dead end road.  Instead of trying to fit everyone into a Bachelor’s degree mold, I think society should be open to individuality and encourage students to develop their natural skills.

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