Judith Whitehead: - The Buffalo News

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Judith Whitehead:

We now are hearing a new buzzword in our ever-changing economy and world – the underemployed. In the past, we used to talk about the percentage of unemployed, but now we have grown a new crop of people – the underemployed.

With the rising cost of doing business, many companies are cutting staff to economize, doing more with less and sending people to the unemployment line.

Many of my friends are among the underemployed. They are highly trained individuals with degrees in many areas – teachers, paralegals, nurses, medical assistants – who are being forced to take positions that are way under their pay grade and skill set to help make ends meet.

We are turning out many college students who are well-qualified but cannot find jobs in their fields. They are burdened with school loans that are next to impossible to pay back without gainful employment. They will take any position just to bring in some money so they can try to get by.

Society has slowly moved away from encouraging our children to learn a skill. Vocational programs and trade schools, once very popular, are being phased out by school budgets and educators. As a result, we have a shortage of electricians, plumbers and hands-on tradesmen who are still a real necessity in this world.

Maybe it is time to rethink how people can make a good living. Getting a master’s degree is not always the answer. For professionals, it is a must to keep up with the competition, but it’s not always the way to keep the bills paid.

Back in the ’90s, my son was a hands-on learner. His classroom was not between four walls, but learning a trade and a skill. He followed his passion and is now a successful luthier (someone who refurbishes and refinishes musical instruments, such as guitars) on the West Coast. He was a self-starter, learning simply by trial and error, and my husband and I could not be more proud of him.

We should encourage our public schools to once again teach the trades because there are many jobs waiting to be filled.

We also have many displaced veterans returning from war who are in need of employment. Some had to leave their jobs to serve their country. Many had skills and educations in areas all across the board, and have been replaced in their long absence. Others are coming back with disabilities and will need retooling in new trades.

In our ever-changing world, we need to rethink our educational options. Yes, it is great that we are educating future doctors, lawyers and professionals, but we need to consider the trades as well.

Who will fix our plumbing problems, build our homes and pave our roads? There are a lot of service jobs just waiting to be filled with capable, hardworking people who can support a family with these modes of trade. We need to offer these skills to our high school students.

Getting people off the unemployment line should be a priority in this country. We need to start regrowing our population and rethinking the potential job market that is in need of qualified people to fill those jobs. Let’s offer our students every possibility to succeed. A conventional college education is not always the answer.

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