Labor Day was founded in the 1880s to celebrate the social and economic achievements of American workers.
Today, leaders from both parties agree that those individuals who provide goods and services provide value and deserve support.
For those who work with their hands — either in a factory or on site — gaining specialized skills is key. And trade and vocational programs provide the education that a skilled laborer needs to get that first apprenticeship or job.
The Biden administration wrote on July 23: “High-quality career and technical education models have significant positive effects on high school graduation, increase college enrollment, and improve wages. The president’s plan would provide more students with access to high-quality career and technical education programs that expand access to computer science; connect underrepresented students to careers in STEM and in in-demand, high-growth industry sectors; that include partnerships with institutions of higher education, employers, and other stakeholders; and that allow students to engage in quality work-based learning opportunities, earn a credential, and/or earn college credit.”
President Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, also supported technical education. In March 2018, the Republican stated at a GenNext forum, “(We) need vocational schools. … Now, they call them, a lot of times, community colleges.”
For decades, policymakers have recognized the importance of those in less-than-glamorous jobs. President John F. Kennedy, a Democrat, stated in October 1960: “As the skill of our workers increases, the output which they contribute to the economy will also increase. Vocational education brings great increases in the skill of workers.”
Though terminology has changed over the years, one fact is certain: Many jobs that were previously classified as “blue collar” (roles such as electrician, plumber, and technician) pay fairly well. And these careers can be obtained without attending the nation’s most expensive universities.
Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich wrote in Salon, “America isn’t educating the technicians we need. As our aspirations increasingly focus on four-year college degrees, we’ve allowed vocational and technical education to be downgraded and denigrated. …Too often in modern America, we equate ‘equal opportunity’ with an opportunity to get a four-year liberal arts degree. It should mean an opportunity to learn what’s necessary to get a good job.”
So this Labor Day, as we celebrate those who work hard to build America, let’s also support the educational programs they need.
Jordan Barkin is a York-based columnist published by USA Today, Gannett and other media outlets. He is a former associate editor of Hearst Magazines.