Impact of college bubble on next generation of mechanics / blue collar trades?

The following is just a hypothesis. Is it on track?

In prior decades, pre-1980s particularly, I am sure many bright and talented kids became mechanics or went into the trades (student loans weren’t as pervasive, college was not such an automatic given for everyone, family culture, social norms, etc) Kids were expected to grow up earlier and marriage ages were lower. The idea of the perpetual student of age 30 still on the gov’t student loan dime wasn’t common like it can be today.

Today, one can say that too many students today are pushed into the college track. (That’s a debate for another thread, perhaps.) So who doesn’t go to college? Is it only the lowest performing students (no attention span, poor reading ability, hate thinking/learning, etc). Is the bright kid who bucks the college path the rare exception? As a result, are we seeing “white collar” college grads who have no real career prospects in their 20s b/c of supply/demand issues?

So, who is left for the trades? Are shops having trouble finding motivated and bright apprentices?? Are the least cerebral/academic types the only ones left that get into mechanics (and I bet this can be said for all the trades) Has the IQ of the kids that go into the trades dropped over the last few decades? Even below average kids are now shuffled off into “college”. Do some kids go to college and then just pursue the trades afterwards? But, is this even possible if you have loans to service, b/c it takes startup capital/apprenticeship/loans/equipment to get into the trades?

Anyone who spends more than a week on a car forum can see that there is higher order thinking and analysis in being a DIY/mechanic. Diagnosis, problem solving, asking questions, etc. If you can read, you can learn a ton about cars. But, that’s easier said than done! Unfortunately, based on a multitude of societal factors, many kids today really don’t read, and shut down if they see a full page of text (or anything longer than 160 chars. on a FB/twitter feed?)

Have your encountered the new generation of mechanics/tradesmen who are incompetent? Are they not sharp and perceptive. Are they not interested in being a good at what they do, and reading everything they can get their hands on? As a result, are they only capable of the most simple “mechanics” like adding oil or changing decals? But, as soon as anything deeper comes along, do they hit a wall? Can’t take notes, etc. Can’t do much beyond plug in the ODB2 and be told the answer (vs. visually inspecting a loose connection)

What are your thoughts on this? Is there truth to this theory? What are you seeing? Older members here may have more longitudinal perspective? Or, has the college bubble had no impact on the caliber of kids who get into mechanics?

To this I can add that 25 years ago, I taught auto mechanics at a Regional Occupational Program in California. We had some bright kids, but those kids were there because they were interested in cars as a hobby. They intended to go to college. They had no intention of ever working as technicians. Those kids generally came from the private high schools.

The councilors in the area public high schools saw the ROP as a dumping ground for kids that likely would not graduate high school. They also liked to pull key gang members of the school grounds for an hour or two per day and send them to the ROP where they would have to associate with kids from other high schools without their posse surrounding them. Sort of a ‘United Nations’ of punks.

We have educated millions of young Americans who today can not figure out how to tie their own shoes…I put much of the blame on the colleges who crank out an endless stream of “Liberal Arts” graduates for which there is no demand…Worse, they graduate with staggering debt, easy money that the colleges slurp up like candy… Decent technical schools are few and far between and they can be somewhat fussy in who they accept as a student. Eager employers are waiting at the end of the diploma table offering good money to these skilled technicians…The Goof-Offs are permanently locked into “unskilled labor” jobs, mostly in the service sector, $10-$15 an hour tops and that’s it…There are a billion Chinese willing to do the same work for far less than that…

In prior decades, pre-1980s particularly, I am sure many bright and talented kids became mechanics or went into the trades (student loans weren't as pervasive, college was not such an automatic given for everyone, family culture, social norms, etc) Kids were expected to grow up earlier and marriage ages were lower. The idea of the perpetual student of age 30 still on the gov't student loan dime wasn't common like it can be today.

Apparently we saw different parts of the 70s.

Answers to your questions requires far too much generalizing and stereotyping. Just what I have seen in southern Minnesota. Our local high school has had an award winning automotive class that has produced champions for a number of years. Due to budget problems again, it was on the list to be cut. After a lot of public input, some from the kids that had gone on to auto careers and even opened their own shop, the board found the money to continue it. If you haven’t noticed, high shools have been getting blasted from all sides over the past 20 years. Then everyone has a new program to add that just has to be included, to help everyone get along with each other. Then the stress on sciences to keep up with the Japanese, and on and on. And of course no child left behind to further refocus on test taking. There is not budget or time for everything so phy ed goes, music goes, and shop classes go. Kids get fat and less well rounded and people grumble more and the circle continues.

A classmate of mine built up a high end machine tool and fabrication company. He had worked hand in hand with our local vo-tec which was one of the best programs around, carefully watching the market and training for where the jobs were. 5-10 years ago, the governor and the legislature started taking aim at the cost of vo tecs and have nearly destroyed the program. High tech machinist jobs go unfilled because there is no training for them. The vo tec must now be called a “college” and the subjects are accounting, nursing, secretarial, and other low paying occupations requiring just an associate degree.

In fact it got so bad that the normally right wing chamber of commerce revolted at more budget cuts for the program and put pressure on the legislature. 30 years ago we had solid programs for both professional and the trades including plumbing, welding, tool and die, and so on. When the money gets cut though, and public support wains, the programs go. Only recently are businesses starting to wake up and are talking about labor shortages of trained people. The governor has also made it a goal, but it will take a long time to repair the damage that has been done to our school systems.

Can you elaborate? What did you generally see in the 1970s?

I put much of the blame on the colleges who crank out an endless stream of “Liberal Arts” graduates for which there is no demand.

Colleges - NO. Please show me the college that’s FORCING students to major in Liberal Arts!!! Never ever heard of a college forcing a student into a curriculum.

What’s been concerning me with colleges these days are the “For Profit Colleges”. They accept anyone - no matter what you did in highschool or how well you scored on your SAT’s. As long as you have the money they accept you. And from what I’ve seen their courses are really dumbed down to accommodate this. I’ve interviewed a few people from one of these “For Profit Colleges”. They all had degrees in Computer Science and they were at or near the top of their class. The education they got there wasn’t even close to someone from a local Tech school with just a 2 year degree. I wouldn’t hire any of them. And many of the people who went there and tried to transfer to a more traditional college…the college they tried to transfer to wouldn’t accept even one credit from those colleges. They’ll accept credit from the 2 year tech schools…but not from those colleges. I can get into specifics of the interview…the education the kids got from those colleges is a complete joke.

In addtion to @MikeInNH 's good points, these ‘for profit’ schools are part of the student loan time bomb that’s brewing - they get the student to take out HUGE loans, the schools get paid regardless of whether the student succeeds.

And the student loans are now one of the biggest debts out there:

@texases - The student loans are a huge debt. They entice the kids in by showing them what a person with a degree in computer science can make right out of college (here in the Boston area it’s about $65k starting pay). The problem is - their degree is almost useless. One of the kids I interviewed now has a job working at Best Buy’s Geek Squad at $30k/yr. With no chance of advancement.

We are drifting far from car maintenance, but this is an important topic.

Perhaps the colleges are not forcing students to liberal arts, but they are certainly not warning them that they won’t be able to pay off their student loans with the job they get at the organic food co-op with their degree in bitterness studies.

I never pushed my daughters to any specific major. They grew up with the assumption that they would go to a four year college and at least get a bachelor’s degree, but along with that came the proviso that the degree they earned had to prepare them to provide a service that other people need and for which others are willing to pay.

In contrast, their cousin recently graduated from UC Davis.after studying six years and running up an astronomical debt because she had a dual major - psychology and women’s studies. Of course she is now unemployed and she will probably be a slave to those loans throughout her adult life. I absolutely hold the instructors and counselors at UC Davis responsible for encouraging her to make such an awful mistake with her life.

Perhaps the colleges are not forcing students to liberal arts, but they are certainly not warning them that they won’t be able to pay off their student loans with the job they get at the organic food co-op with their degree in bitterness studies.

Why is that the colleges responsibility??? My youngest son knows that a degree in liberal arts is not going to get him a well paid job. If you’re smart enough to go to college you better be smart enough to know what jobs are available. Any 13yo can do a google search to tell you what college degrees have a high likelyhood of getting a decent job.

A good university offers students choices. Liberal Arts are for students who don’t know what they want yet. It’s their choice. And while Liberal Art degrees are worthless…liberal art courses are NOT. My daughter with her BS in Chemical Engineering at MIT had to take Liberal Art courses. It makes for a well rounded student.

Liberal arts programs in today’s world offer young people an opportunity to be a “college student” thus postponing growing up, stay on their parent’s health insurance, and “attend classes”, all while building up a huge debt on a FAFSA loan the repayment of which will be delayed until sometime in the distant (in the perception of the average 18 year old) future.

For the colleges, they’re a moneymaker. They allow the colleges to offer numerous classes with no investment in labs or machinery, and utilizing low paid adjunct faculty…who do it to pay the bills because THEIR liberal arts degrees never got them a decent job. And you can teach an undergraduate liberal arts class in a lecture hall (lots of revenue, littlle instructor cost). An undergrad technical course cannot be readily done in a lecture hall, and of lab work is involved the teacher/student ration must be limited for safety reasons. Liberal arts degrees pump up revenue at minimal cost.

The “dirty little secret” is that these degrees don’t provide graduates with anything usable in the real world. Many realize this and continue on to masters degrees in the hopes of snagging a teaching job…many end up as low paid adjuncts teaching liberal arts courses at the local community college.

There have been a growing number of media types “sounding the alarm”, but unless and until the student motivations change from those described in my first paragraph, or the government stops fudning these junk programs, nothing will change.

Caveat: this in no way is a critcism of those self-motivated and focused students working toward goals. Rather, it’s an indictment of the colleges that prey on the students who are not self motivated and goal oriented by providing them with useless courses and degrees for the sole purpose of generating revenue at cheap cost to the college…but huge cost to the student.

There are many people who are well-educated that never went to college and there are many people with college degrees that aren’t very well educated. I really respect those people who are self-educated. Unfortunately, I couldn’t do it on my own. I needed the discipline of the classroom and the help of teachers and professors to earn a couple of graduate degrees and I am still not sure that I know very much. When I laid out the grading scale for the classes I taught, I told the students this: "I have had to lower my standards. I used to fail students who left this class knowing no more than I do. Now, if at the end of the term, you don’t know any more than I do, you will receive a “C”. To earn the higher grades, you need to have more knowledge of the subject than I have. How will civilization progress if your generation doesn’t exceed my generation?"
I theoretically understand how the internal combustion engine works from my physics courses. However, a cranky old head mechanic and service manager at the DeSoto/Plymouth dealer taught me how to do repairs on a car. Money was tight when I was growing up. Often when I would take my dad’s car in for a repair, this old mechanic would say, “Don’t waste our time and your dad’s money on something you can do yourself”. He would then quickly tell me how do do the repair, where to get the parts and then say “I’m going to make a mechanic out of you yet, boy!” I used the same technique this mechanic used on me in teaching my classes. I would outline the problem, but it was up to the student to do the solution.
It seems to me that college is a place where the students are challenged and have to wrestle with ideas and work to solve problems. Too often, students memorize facts and then demonstrate knowledge of these facts on an examination and then most is forgotten.
I think that there are plenty of bright young people with the ability to become auto mechanics, electronic technicians, and so on. What is needed is the challenge and the encouragement for them to see that their skills are important.

A great many young people and their parents see little opportunity for high school graduates so the prospect of college offers parents and their student offspring a socially acceptable, even commendable opportunity to delay jumping into the rat race. And it is often just an expensive hiatus for those who think they can afford it but can’t. Often the parents felt certain that by the time their child completed the 4 years the economy would be looking great again but SURPRISE. It sin’t. Several friends financed their grand children’s poorly planned educations and are now wondering what to do with the educated but unemployable grandchild and the mortgage on their homes.

I paid $80,000 for my son’s college at a church college. When he said he wanted to major in psychology, hard nose as I was, I told him that’s fine but I’m not paying for that worthless major. He added biology for a double major, went on to med school and making a lot of money now. My own alma mater is reporting that 97% of the graduates are working in their chosen field. I guess it just depends on the school and the counseling kids get. Psych, soc, journalism, etc. are all popular and fun majors but are pretty much worthless unless you go on to a PhD. Lots of these people working retail for $12 an hour.

My own alma mater is reporting that 97% of the graduates are working in their chosen field.

What college is this?? That’s about 300% over the national average.

I’ve been lucky so far. My two oldest kids majored in technical degrees that still have a chance of getting them a job. My youngest is looking at Computer Science…but he’s at least a couple years away from college.

Technical school or other college paths makes for an easier path to success.

However the key item IMHO is not what you do for a degree. Its who you know and the (social) network you build in school and life. That is why those Ivy Liberal colleges you do quite well, the network. Also internships play a strong role.

Once you get that first job it becomes irrelevant fast to what major/school you chose.

That is why those Ivy Liberal colleges you do quite well, the network.

That’s ONE reason…but not the ONLY reason. They do so well because of several other reasons.

. The students who go there are among the top of their graduating class in high school.
. Their SAT or ACT scores are among the highest in the nation.
. Pretty much all of them are overachievers.
. The education you get from an Ivy League college is usually second to none.

While other colleges offer the same classes as the Ivy league…it’s usually not taught the same nor do they have the same expectations. My son went to Harvard for one year before he transferred to a smaller college to play baseball. One of his classes was American Literature. A friend of his when to UNH (University of NH). They both were taking American Lit at the same time. My son’s friend had to read 5 books and write a one page summary on each of the books. My son (at Harvard) had to read 10 books and write a 10-page synopsis on 9 of the books. And also write a 20 page synopsis on the remaining book.

The book Shop Class as Soulcraft certainly supports this hypothesis that smart people are needed in the trades, but I believe some college, whether it’s a university baccalaureate degree or a community college workforce certificate, is a must.

For the sake of discussion, the liberal arts major is not just for people who are undecided. It is for people who want a well-rounded education that includes more than just a single discipline. It is for everyone who thinks a basic understanding of art, literature, philosophy, and science is important for a well-rounded individual and a fulfilling life, and if you have plans on attending graduate school, a baccalaureate degree in your discipline from a good liberal arts college can be quite useful.

In my humble opinion, if more people had liberal arts degrees, our citizenry would have a better understanding of issues related to science, macroeconomics, and politics, and could better understand the issues most important to voters. Far too many people lack a basic education in the issues we vote on.

I guess I am one of the few people in this discussion who believe in Plato’s idea of the philosopher king (or the modern equivalent – the philosopher president).

I just hope everyone in this discussion understands the “liberal” in “liberal arts” has nothing to do with politics.

The problem, Bocephus, is that people with these degrees can’t find work. Except in retailing and fast food. By the hour.

Meanwhile, they have huge loans to repay that hourly jobs in WalMart and fast food won’t cover the payments on.

The unemployment offices have long lines of well rounded people. Employers need people with specific skills and credentials.