Want to read a horror novel? Here you go
The short answer is that we will need to spend $3.6 to $4 TRILLION dollars to fix our infrastructure. Not build new, to fix what we have. So, yea this is something that I care about.
Now, I'm not saying that college is bad, and I am not saying that college is a waste of anything. But the most educated states list here only have 1/3 of the high school educated population with bachelor degrees. What about the other 2/3? What about the people who cannot go to college, don't want to go, can't afford to go, or want to pursue a job that does not require college? High schools in the USA do not teach life skills, and maybe they never did. High Schools teach people how to go to college. No wonder kids and teachers are burnt out.
When I was in High school, a million years ago it seems, the kids who had the temperament and brains to go onto college were put into the AP track of classes. The rest of us took basic level education so that we could do math in our heads, balance checkbooks, write letters etc. We had to take typing on mechanical typewriters even. The class right after mine moved onto computers and we were the last senior class with the old school typewriters. In my opinion we should kill calculus and teach statistics. Rebuild art and music classes so that we have a population who appreciates the arts. Hammer in reading and writing skills. And teach how to find information and to evaluate how trustworthy it is. Those are the skills we need to teach to prep for the future. Can't really do that when you are teaching a standardized test, however.
And in reply to your second paragraph, there will always be dirty dangerous work to so. Laying asphalt is awful, prepping concrete sucks, yard work in the summer sucks, cleaning gutters etc sucks. We need sewers and waterworks, and electrical grids, and roads, and bridges, and buildings, and HVAC systems, and appliances and and and you get the picture. Yes having lots of people with 4 year degrees is nice and that leads to smarter people with wider perspectives on the world if you do it right. But we also saddle those grads with heavy debt to the tune of $1 TRILLION now. Can we do better with that money?
There is a sense in which we can "outsource" some dangerous and unpleasant jobs.
Should we, though? Ford outsourced all of their IT people and it cost them in a competitive sense; the computers and user interfaces in Ford cars sucks. Ford has begun a major project to "insource" IT and tech people again so that they can build a talent pool that is loyal to Ford. Sorry for one more link here talking about it GE has a big appliance plant here in Kentucky and they brought back manufacturing and design and engineering to be all under one roof to shorten product development turnarounds and to get better, faster feedback on the manufacturing processes. Outsourcing can help you as a company... It can also train your future competition, give them free access to how your markets work, teach the people who become the next managers and leaders and suddenly build a whole new competition vector right under your nose.
Here in the Ohio Valley there is a report that I cannot find, sorry, that heavy machinery operators are punching their own tickets because there are so few people who can do the work, and they are getting desperate to train more people. But that work is tough, hard on the body and if you screw up people die. And the training looks rough on the pros and the trainees. Pay on these jobs? $20/hour or so for beginners with certs.
More pay will only go so far. This talk by Mike Rowe has been floating around here and is a must watch. We no longer value WORK anymore. I grant you that I live and work in a very specific bubble, but I get the thought that making $50K a year is no longer enough: you need to make that $50K in the right kind of job. Why do we value a machinist making 80K a year less than a software engineer with a degree who makes 60K? Or a garbage collector making 90K in a unionized job less than a nurse making 60-70K a year? If one of our goals is to get more people into the middle class, create solid wage earners who form the backbone of stable families and then break the poverty cycle, why does it matter HOW the money is earned?
Its late and I realize that this looks like I am harping on salary and money more than needed skills and careers and that is not my intent. The intent is to show that the 60-70% of you not working on a college tract are not throwing your lives away and there are a huge number of options for you. I am hoping that I can add a perspective to the board outside our bubble. Most of us here are college educated, white collar types. We are in a very small minority. MOST wage earners do tough work in sometimes harsh conditions (and I include servers and waitresses in this camp).
Shouldn't we take a step back, look hard at what needs to be done and move in those directions? And if so, how?