Young Texans need jobs

Dave Player

If you’re worried about getting a job after graduation (and you should be), pick your major carefully. A report earlier this year by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce found that there was significant variance in post-graduate unemployment based on undergraduate major. Generally, graduates who majored in nontechnical fields, such as liberal arts (9.4 percent unemployment) and fine arts (11.1 percent), had a harder time finding jobs than their peers with technical degrees, such as mathematics (6.0 percent) and health care (5.4 percent).

The takeaway is simple: They’re not hiring philosophers (10.8 percent) at the same rate as nurses (4.0 percent). But the Georgetown study only confirms what most of us already know. The real question is what these trends should mean for our educational system as a whole.

Faced with budget cuts and a recession, our state has an opportunity to re-evaluate what we want out of our schools, colleges and universities in the upcoming legislative session. The UT Board of Regents has made it clear that improving graduation rates is the top priority this year. But, as the Georgetown study shows, more important than the number of graduates is the knowledge they possess upon graduation. Improved graduation rates do nothing to help Texans if they result in a flood of under-qualified graduates trained in unemployable fields. To truly fix our faltering education system our state government should re-commit to educating young Texans in technical fields.

The ongoing crisis in Europe illustrates the impact a vocation-based education system can have on a nation’s economy. One of the most telling statistics of the recession in Europe is the unemployment rate among youth. “Youth unemployment” measures the percentage of people in the workforce between ages 15-24 who are unemployed. In recent months, that rate has climbed as high as 50 percent in Greece and Spain. And while youth unemployment rates don’t count students as employed members of the workforce, the percentage of young people not working or in school (also known as the NEET rate) has also reached a fifteen-year high.

In stark contrast to Greece and Spain, Germany boasts a relatively low youth unemployment rate of 7.9 percent and a NEET rate of 9.5 percent. Many have attributed that success to Germany’s vocational “dual training,” a 43-year-old state-sponsored system which places young Germans in three-year apprenticeships where they split time between on-the-job training and classroom instruction. This hybrid-education model not only insures that graduates are credentialed, but also that they have the technical skills to immediately enter the workforce.

Vocation-centric education could be a huge boon for our cash-strapped state education system. While the Legislature is expected to make more budget cuts next year (on top of the $844 million in cuts made to education in the last session), the state’s economy is still growing. Texas added 457,700 non-farm jobs in the past two years, with fields such as manufacturing, energy, health care and business services seeing the most growth. Given those trends, better and more comprehensive vocational training isn’t just an attractive option­—it’s a necessity.

Amidst talks of reforms, University loyalists have been quick to cite to the State Constitution to argue that our Legislature – and thus, taxpayers – are required to fund “a University of the first class.” In their view “first class” is synonymous with prestige, university rankings and recognition for high-profile faculty.

This fall we must ask ourselves and our leaders what a “first class” university really entails: a prestigious label or an industrious alumni base? What young Texans need are jobs, and the technical skills necessary to acquire them. Our university has a 129-year history of producing talented and highly-trained graduates. It’s by their skill and abilities that we should measure the quality of this University.

Player is a second-year UT law student from Dallas and a member of the Texas Student Media board