Most people don’t consider education an entitlement program, but it is—and it is likely one of the oldest if not the oldest in North America.
In 1647, the Massachusetts Bay Colony required every town of fifty families or more to have an elementary school. In 1785, the Continental Congress passed a law calling for townships to be created in the Northwest Territory (what is now Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, part of Minnesota and Ohio) and for each township to reserve a section of land for a local school. In 1790, the Pennsylvania constitution established a system of free public education. And so it went and so it grew.
Because education—when done right—not only provides an individual with personal enrichment, it provides society with the means of protection, production of needed goods and services, and even prosperity.
Yet against this background, we see a situation in which programs to teach young people skilled trades shrink to a state of near invisibility before slowly beginning to rebound. The state of Michigan currently has, according to the governor, a shortfall of about 100,000 skilled workers. Does it make sense that the heartland of an industry that put the world on wheels and created the middle class finds itself in these straits?
Institutions and individuals are slowly beginning to realize things have to change. But more needs to be done and be done more quickly. We need more up-to-date vocational training included in high-school curricula. We need more post-secondary vocational education where students not only learn from books and digital media but learn from working on machine tools or, better yet, working in a co-op program with a manufacturing company.
The latter solution is being applied with growing frequency, particularly apprenticeship programs. But we need more of them. And that will take an infusion of money, from taxpayers, companies and institutions. But it will be money well spent.
Once properly established, vocational education will create tax revenue that pays for itself—and more.