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What Can We Do About America’s Skilled Labor Shortage?

As the new decade begins, America is facing a difficult situation when it comes to employment and jobs. While more people than ever are graduating from higher education, they’re facing difficulty when seeking employment. Meanwhile, the nation faces an increasing lack of skilled labor, with trade professions having difficulty in staffing. With more people seeking employment after college, there’s increasingly a lack of people taking jobs in skilled trades, creating an employment gap based on education and training.

The Call Of Higher Education

With college education being more expensive than ever, why are more students attending when there are plenty of available jobs that don’t require a college degree? As a college education becomes more common, there’s increasing pressure from previous generations to pursue higher education. Often, attending college is now seen as the inevitable next step after high school. Public school systems tend to perpetuate this assumption. Half of the public school workforce consists of teachers. The other 50% are guidance counselors, nurses, speech therapists, etc. Regardless of staff status, many public school workers and teachers push their students to seek a college education, even when doing so is financially unwise.

Stigma Against Skilled Labor

In addition to the pressure to attend higher education, many Americans pursue college due to the seemingly prevalent stigma against careers in skilled labor. Trade professions, such as carpentry, plumbing, and repairs, often are seen as being “below” office work. This pushes many recent college graduates into part-time temporary or contract positions in an office environment. More than three million temporary and contract employees work for America’s staffing companies during an average week.

However, these skilled trade professions can actually pay more than the standard office job by a wide margin. Many skilled labor careers offer a high income, better hours, and better long-term prospects than college graduates will be able to find in other fields. Many capable individuals are, unfortunately, missing out on excellent careers due to widespread stigma against skilled labor.

Economic Impacts

The skilled labor shortage isn’t only impacting individuals’ career prospects; it also comes with a significant disadvantage for the nation’s economy. Current estimates suggest that the skilled labor shortage could cost as much as $2.5 trillion, with up to 2.4 million positions unfilled between 2018 and 2028. Additionally, the stigma against trade skills and the pressure to pursue higher education may worsen America’s existing student debt problems. Many students are forced to take out expensive loans to afford college tuition, pushing them into severe lifelong debt. This debt impacts all aspects of individual and national economics, with ripple effects as far-reaching as the settlement of life insurance payments. Approximately 86 percent of life insurance policies lapse without any benefit ever paid. With student debts climbing and more unfilled positions in certain industries, it’s clear that the nation will need to find solutions.

Fixing The Problems

Encouraging more people to pursue careers in skilled labor won’t happen overnight. Major cultural and structural shifts will need to occur for changes to take place long-term. During schooling, more students need to be made aware that there are acceptable career choices within skilled labor that pay well and don’t require a college degree. Not all of these careers require so-called “hard labor” either; according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are an estimated 7,880 tailors, dressmakers, and custom sewers across the nation. Informing current students about their options ensures that a larger percentage of them will move into these positions in the future.

But what can be done for positions that are currently vacant? Is waiting for students to graduate from high school first necessary? There are several more immediate intervention options available, and almost all of them rely on educating and retraining unemployed or underemployed individuals. It’s technically possible for people to educate themselves for entry into these careers. There are over 119,000 libraries in the United States. Most have resources or learning materials available to help with retraining.

However, many of these careers require some degree of training through trade schools. Directing funds towards training and retraining could help, and in many cases, it already has. Several veteran programs allow veterans to gain an education that can help them enter into well-paying skilled trade jobs. Veterans of the Armed Services can apply for G.I. Bill benefits online, making it easier than ever to receive the necessary financial support for education.

As 2020 begins, the skilled labor shortage continues to pose problems for the nation’s employment and economy. However, with increased resources and promotion of skilled labor careers at earlier ages, it may be possible to combat the shortage and avoid continued employment gaps over time.

Fox News’ Hegseth Lobbies Trump For Profit-Making Colleges

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox.

Pete Hegseth, the Fox News personality who urged President Donald Trump to pardon service members charged with war crimes, is trying to influence the White House on another military-related cause.

An Army veteran who talks to Trump periodically and has dined with him at the White House, Hegseth traveled to New Orleans in June to address leaders of for-profit colleges at their annual convention. They are pushing to enroll more veterans, a lucrative class of students — and Hegseth is the face of the colleges’ new campaign to defend a favorable carve-out in federal law.

Under the law, for-profit colleges can’t receive more than 90 percent of their revenue from federal education funds. The logic, according to the staffer who drafted the provision, was that the education should be good enough that at least some students are willing to pay. But veterans’ benefits, such as GI Bill stipends, don’t count as federal education funds (even though they also come from the federal government).

This “90/10 loophole” means that for every veteran enrolled, a school can admit nine more students using federal loans. Veterans advocates and congressional investigators say this loophole leads to predatory and deceptive marketing tactics that sometimes leave veterans with unexpected debt and useless degrees if schools lose their accreditation or go out of business.

Hegseth has pushed back on that criticism, framing the issue as protecting veterans’ freedom to choose where they go to school. Speaking at the Career Education Colleges and Universities convention in New Orleans, Hegseth pledged to use his relationship with Trump to fend off legislation to close the 90/10 loophole.

“Right now you’ve got a president that would veto the bad stuff,” he said in the speech, which was flagged at the time by Media Matters, a Democrat-aligned group that scrutinizes Fox News and other right-wing media. “And if he ever gave me a call — and sometimes he does — I’d tell him that.”

Trump has indeed dialed Hegseth into the Oval Office to discuss veterans policy and considered appointing him as secretary of veterans affairs. A frequent presence on the president’s favorite morning show, “Fox & Friends,” Hegseth has interviewed Trump on the air multipletimes and been the subject of several of Trump’s adoringtweets. Hegseth prominently encouraged Trump to grant pardons or other relief in high-profile war crimes cases, which the president he did on Friday.

Since June, Hegseth has given at least 11 speeches for CECU and related groups, according to posts on his Twitterfeed and the organizations’ websites. One of the appearances billed his keynote as “sponsored by Career Education Colleges and Universities.”

Hegseth declined to comment. “I can’t give interviews because I work for Fox News,” he said before hanging up. He did not respond to follow-up questions sent by text message.

Fox News and CECU didn’t respond to requests for comment.

While Hegseth and CECU would not discuss his compensation, he has in the past spoken to political groups that paid $5,000 to $10,000 to his agency, Premiere Speakers Bureau, according to campaign finance records compiled by Media Matters. Premiere did not respond to requests for comment.

CECU has paid another advocate, Callista Gingrich, at least $5,000, according to the financial disclosure she filed for her appointment as Trump’s ambassador to the Vatican.

In addition to the speeches, Hegseth published two op-eds, on the websites of Fox News and The Hill. The articles defend for-profit colleges and attack veterans groups that oppose the 90/10 loophole. Neither article disclosed Hegseth’s work for CECU. A spokeswoman for The Hill, Lisa Dallos, said Hegseth told the newspaper he doesn’t have a “paid relationship” with CECU and signed paperwork saying he doesn’t have a conflict of interest.

The White House didn’t respond to requests for comment about Hegseth’s advocacy efforts. (Trump’s education secretary, Betsy DeVos, has also championed for-profit schools.) But Hegseth’s suggestion that Trump would use his veto pen to protect for-profit colleges is looking less hypothetical than in June when he spoke in New Orleans.

On Thursday, four senators introduced the upper chamber’s first-ever bipartisan bill to close the 90/10 loophole. “This bill puts reasonable protections in place that are fair to veterans, taxpayers, and schools,” Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., one of the co-sponsors, said in a statement. “This bill is a bipartisan solution to put the best interest of our veterans first while also recognizing that the majority of for-profit post-secondary institutions, but unfortunately not all, offer quality programs that accommodate the needs and unique skill sets of our veterans and service members.”

The senators’ announcement for the bill included endorsements from the American Legion and Veterans Education Success, which were both called out by name in Hegseth’s most recent op-ed, as well as from seven other organizations representing veterans and service members.

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore

Georgia State Students Publicly Burn Latina Author’s Book

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Much has been written in right-wing publications about liberal and progressive students having angry reactions to conservative speakers who visit college campuses. Students, the argument typically goes, need to be exposed to a variety of viewpoints — including those they disagree with. But Latina author Jennine Capó Crucet, during a visit to Georgia Southern University earlier this week, found out the hard way that some right-wing students have zero tolerance for opposing viewpoints — and will even respond with a book burning, according to student newspaper The George Anne.

Crucet, who teaches at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, appeared at Georgia State University in Statesboro on Wednesday night to discuss her book, “Make Your Home Among Strangers” — which is a novel about a poor Latina who is accepted to an upscale college in New York. During a Q&A session, some students objected to her use of the term “white privilege.”

One of the students, according to the report, told Crucet, “I noticed that you made a lot of generalizations about the majority of white people being privileged.” Another reportedly asked her why she was critical of white people. And Crucet responded, “I came here because I was invited, and I talked about white privilege because it’s a real thing that you are actually benefiting from right now in even asking this question.”

Some of the students who attended the event  apparently didn’t like that comment and, after the event, they responded by burning copies of “Make Your Home Among Strangers.” A video of the burning was posted on Twitter.

After learning about the burning, Crucet tweeted, “Students at @GeorgiaSouthern literally burning my novel. This is where we are, America.”

John Lester, vice president of communications at Georgia Southern, said in a statement quoted by the report, “Book burning does not align with Georgia Southern’s values. Nor does it encourage the civil discourse and debate of ideas.”