Learning to Labor in the 21st Century
Katherine S. Newman and Hella Winston
After decades of off-shoring, downsizing, shuttered factories, and stranded blue collar workers, the United States is on the edge of an industrial renaissance. This is news that would have seemed beyond improbable even a decade ago, but companies like Motorola Mobility, Apple, BMW, Bosch, and Volkswagen are opening plants and committing millions of dollars to build new products here.
These manufacturing jobs are going to look different from the ones that were outsourced beginning in the late 1990s. Changes in technology mean that there will be fewer jobs in these new factories, and they will require different skills, since today’s manufacturing work is largely done in front of a computer. And while the return of jobs is encouraging, it is becoming apparent that those skilled workers are hard to find.
Reskilling America: Learning to Labor in the 21st Century, reveals the scope of that skills gap and looks at what the U.S. education system has to do to prepare students entering the workforce with the skills that this industrial renaissance will demand. This training was once the province of a vocational education system that made American manufacturing the envy of the world. Today, vocational education has faltered, despite extraordinarily dedicated teachers and highly motivated working class students. Newman and Winston find an explanation for this disconnect in the ambivalence that parents, policy makers, and educational leaders have toward the blue collar life, the racial politics of “tracking” which derailed training and shunted aside any prospect of high quality vocational education, and the rise of “college for all.”
We may need to turn to models from countries like Germany, with its robust training and apprenticeship system, to resuscitate vocational education in the U.S. But there are signs that such change is possible, as government and industry are beginning to recognize how critical it is for the residents of our industrial cities as well as for our economic prosperity that we seize the opportunities provided by the changing manufacturing landscape.
Praise for Reskilling America
A top-notch, highly accessible contribution to the business and popular economics literature.
—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
What a great and timely book! As the opportunity gap rises to the top of our national agenda, this compelling account of ‘on-ramps’ for the millions of young people left behind by the simplistic ‘college for all’ mantra is must reading for civic leaders and activists across the country. Newman and Winston combine irrefutable statistical and qualitative evidence to show exactly what needs to be done in vocational and technical education, apprenticeship programs, and community colleges to ensure rewarding careers and lives for all our kids.
―Robert D. Putnam, author of Bowling Alone and Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis
Vocational education—if done right, if reconceived—is not a relic of the past but the hope of the future. The reskilling described here may be the only way to save so many of our kids. Newman and Winston get it—and this very important book gets it across. It’s the very thing John Dewey would be telling us but Newman and Winston have done it just as well. Now we have the program. The rest is up to us.
—Thomas Geoghegan, author of Only One Thing Can Save Us