Phi Beta Cons

Matching Education with Jobs in Chicago

Former White House chief of staff and current Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel explained his “Colleges to Careers” program in a Wall Street Journal editorial on Monday. His idea of having community colleges team with local businesses is sorely needed, as four-year degrees in communications will not help train workers for “AAR Corp.’s 600 job openings for welders and mechanics.”

As Mayor Emanuel also notes:

As mayor of one of America’s largest cities, I find it unacceptable that at a time of high unemployment, more than 80% of manufacturers say they can’t find skilled workers to hire.

This situation will only get worse. In the next 10 years, the Chicago area will need 9,000 additional computer-science workers, 20,000 new transportation workers and 43,000 new health-care workers, including 15,000 nurses.

This idea is more pragmatic than the wage-premium-induced “college-for-all” argument, but I question its long-term viability. Will this program be able to address Mr. Emanuel’s statement that “we need to guarantee that the diploma a student earns has economic value”?

What will happen when welders are no longer in high demand? Will these community colleges be able to trim the fat? Or will they continue to push formerly hot majors to the point of extreme oversupply?

Ideally, job training forgoes the middleman and takes place on the job. But, that is not today’s world. Even if “Colleges to Careers” is flawed, it’s another crack in the foundation of college-for-all.

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