Greetings, folks! I’m changing gears today, thanks in part to hearing that Donald Trump wants to put an emphasis on vocational education – something I couldn’t support more. Before I start, however, I want to share a little background on my academic and professional qualifications that ultimately determine my perspective.
Simply put, I’m an academic, but I work in a world far from it. My undergraduate degree is in engineering. I majored in mining and minored in geology and green engineering. I also went on to get my MBA and was recognized then for my strengths in computational data extraction. When I graduated from college, my first job was working as a supervisor trainee in an underground coal mine south of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Since that time, I’ve moved from coal to industrial minerals to precious metals and from the danger and the dirt to a corporate office. I’ve done all that in about six years. When people ask me, “What do you want to do in your career?” my response is pretty simple. “Keep climbing.” That said, I acknowledge only one path to success – that’s working hard and working honest.
Being an employee of the mining industry, I’ve witnessed things that truly fuel my fire – like Alpha Natural Resources CEO, Kevin Crutchfield, leading the charge to strip retirement and health benefits from former employees while giving himself multi-million dollar bonuses for things like driving a company into the ground. I keep thinking that maybe I’ll get the chance to stop people like him someday. Unfortunately, the more time I spend in the industry, the more I realize that the system caters largely to those who are willing to lie, cheat, and steal their way to the top. That’s not part of my modus operandi, so I guess I’ll either make it or get fired trying.
With all that said, I’m going to share something near and dear to my heart when it comes to the mining industry – or any other labor industry for that matter. Right now, the United States has approximately 3 million jobs open to be filled, and instead of having workers to take them, we have a generation of college graduates living at home with their parents. Why?
Because we told them that the government would give them money (that it didn’t have) to send them to college to get trained for jobs (that don’t exist), and now, they owe $1.3 trillion (that they can’t pay back). What has been done to the millennial generation – my generation – is nothing less than the criminal theft of their pursuit of happiness, because hidden in our own country are 2.7 million jobs in vocational trades that require no college degree. I consider myself to be in a unique position because I’m both well educated and an employee of an industry suffering from this skills gap, and I know of the success that is hiding right in front of their faces.
One of the things I have been fortunate enough to do in my short career is give advice. I’ve spoken to school children about mining. I’ve given career advice to colleagues who are looking for help after the decline of the coal industry. I’ve gotten to talk to old friends who are now war veterans and try to help them make decisions on what to do with their lives moving forward. I’m by no means an expert, but my career field has blessed me with a unique perspective on the values of higher education and hard work, and let me tell you something:
Higher education is completely overvalued.
To the baby boomer generation, I want to say thank you. Thank you for telling your children that the only way your life could mean anything would be to go get a college degree. You have done an entire generation a huge disservice by failing to prepare them for the labor force and leaving them with the largest amount of debt in human history.
To the millennials, I want to say, look, if you are certain that your future lies in the world of academia, like I was, then by all means, go get that degree and make your living; however, let me give you one piece of advice: Don’t do it with debt. Degrees cost money, but education, like a library card, is free. Consider all options and understand that you don’t need formal education to be educated, and you don’t need a degree to be a success. Choose a path that rewards you for working hard.
If you all have never heard of mikeroweWORKS, first, shame on you. Second, go check it out at ProfoundlyDisconnected. The foundation is based on the principle that success is not guaranteed only to those with a college education, and they even offer scholarships not based on grades or need, but by demonstrated work ethic. If you happen to have been crippled by student loan debt, or are trying to avoid being crippled by student loan debt, consider a different path. Those who work in vocational trades can effectively write their own ticket right now, and this country needs more people like them.
I’ll leave you guys with this: The SWEAT Pledge, written by Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs, Somebody’s Gotta Do It, and of course, mikeroweWORKS.