Forget College. Skilled Trades Are the Future of the U.S. Economy

Joel Kotkin:

America is suffering from a worker shortage, but a more persistent and perhaps even urgent problem is the profound lack of skills among younger Americans. American elite universities may still be still regarded as the world’s best, but for most young people, the educational system—from grade school to graduate school—is something of a failure, a critical engine of persistent inequality and diminished competition on the international stage.

This crisis in competence predates the pandemic. So does the very related labor shortage. The percentage of firms reporting shortages of labor more than doubled between 2015 and 2020, to 70 percent. Low birthrates among millennials has created what the forecasting firm EMSI describes as a “demographic drought,” as U.S. population growth between 16 and 64 has dropped from 20 percent in the eighties to less than 5 percent last decade. By 2028, Korn Ferry projects there will be a deficit of at least six million workers.

But the bigger problem is not just numbers; consider that our competitors, notably China, face even more challenging demographics. The big issue is the lack of skills throughout the workforce. From grade to graduate schools, our education is deteriorating.

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