For many Americans, this Monday off of work is celebrated mainly because it is a Monday off of work.
It’s about food, fun and football, not pondering vacation pay, health insurance, sick days, overtime pay and other fruits of the modern labor movement.
But with the national unemployment rate still much too high, and even the modest economic recovery hampered by gridlock in Washington and uncertainty abroad, there might not seem to be as much to celebrate this year.
At least until you look closer to home, where the Midlands’ economy boasts a healthy manufacturing sector that stresses math and science skills and pays good wages to workers with them.
Ours is a place where opportunity exists, to the tune of 35,000 advertised job openings counted by the Nebraska Department of Labor. In many Iowa and Nebraska cities, unemployment sits below 5 percent. Here, a problem is too few workers with the necessary training to accomplish the jobs available.
That’s where community colleges and technical schools come in. And that’s why we should take a moment this Labor Day, once the bratwurst and beverages are gone, to consider what each of us might do to help better prepare ourselves and our loved ones for the jobs of the future.
Access to bachelor’s degrees is important for the students whose goals require that type of higher education. But real-world circumstances show that many kids are happier and more successful if similarly encouraged to pursue passions that require two-year degrees. It’s also important to let young people know about other fulfilling educational paths.
Each child and life is different.
Would-be welders, plumbers, machinists, registered nurses, auto mechanics and IT professionals can find training at community colleges from Scottsbluff to Council Bluffs. More than 240,000 community college students in Nebraska and western Iowa are doing that right now. Others pursue careers through independent, union-offered certificate programs.
The jobs available are not your father’s factory jobs. These are more sophisticated, often using technology but not easily replaced by it.
These are the kinds of jobs that pay enough to raise a family, buy a home, retire. They offer meaningful work worthy of interest. And they are more attainable careers than many might think.
Efforts are underway across the United States to train and retrain workers for the jobs of the 21st century. Public policy discussions should embrace this challenge as among the most important of our time. Other nations are doing the same.
Our global economy has exposed the skills deficits of college graduates and those with only high-school-level educations. In today’s economy, serious-minded adults need to continuously evaluate their skills and consider what they might need to learn to remain competitive.
It’s important for all workers to have an idea of what career or job they might pursue next. That helps them seek out training opportunities.
These days, people only rarely work in one career for their entire lives, even those with career-specific advanced degrees. People with engineering degrees work in polling, then computer analytics. People with political science degrees work in government, then for nonprofit organizations or the public schools.
When the Bureau of Labor Statistics surveyed American workers in 2012, people had been at their current jobs an average of less than 5 years. Economists disagree over how to define career changes but do agree that people change careers many times.
So this Labor Day, steal a few seconds from barbecue to reflect on our most important investment — opportunities to provide for you and yours.