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There has been much debate about the value of a college education. This results from ever increasing tuition and subsequent student loans that must be repaid. It raises the question about how much a college degree really prepares the student to enter the work force. Statistics point out that college graduates have a higher earning potential than those without a degree. However, when we offset their earnings by the repayment of exorbitant student loans with interest, one wonders whether college graduates are really that much further ahead in earnings than tradesmen.

Today we find that many jobs, which previously required only a high school education, now insist on a college degree. With so many more young people obtaining their degrees, employers can be more selective. While a degree may not necessarily qualify an applicant for a particular employment opportunity, it will give him an advantage over a nongraduate.

Unfortunately, there is a tendency to distinguish between those who labor with their hands and those who engage in mental work. We have even termed them as blue-collar and white-collar jobs and, with it, created a class structure within our own society.

Most European countries still maintain apprenticeship programs where companies train people for job requirements within the various industries. These programs usually last three to four years and consist of on-the-job training while at the same time the government provides educational programs/classes that are specifically geared toward the trainees’ objectives. Employers and government work together to help the apprentices receive their diplomas and become fully recognized tradesmen. These men and women enter the work force as skilled laborers and are productive individuals from day one of their employment. The United States should seriously consider similar programs for those who are unable to attend college.

I have done both. I completed a four-year apprenticeship program and earned a college degree. So I have come to appreciate the value of both. My apprenticeship program prepared me to enter the job market as a professional craftsman, a skill that provided a satisfactory income for several years. With this experience and the addition of a college degree, I was able to advance my career. Both were of equal importance for my future.

If the United States hopes to rebuild its manufacturing segment, we need to develop the skills that will be required. Manufacturers and government must cooperate to train and educate people for the industry requirements that lie ahead. Although our unemployment level remains high, many companies complain about the shortage of skilled labor. While I am not a proponent of government interference in industry, here is one area where the two must cooperate to succeed.

The sharing of cost may be a determining factor for success. So much of our federal and state money is spent on training people for programs that have little or no future. The industry is usually in the best position to determine what trades will be required. Sound apprenticeship programs provide these skills. Such programs will make our work force more competitive with other industrialized nations, something we can no longer neglect. Such programs will give young people who are unable to attend college an important start, which will assure them of a more confident future.