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From Katherine Newman, award-winning author of No Shame in My Game, and sociologist Hella Winston, a sharp and irrefutable call to reenergize this nation's long-neglected system of vocational training
After decades of off-shoring and downsizing that have left blue collar workers obsolete and stranded, the United States is now on the verge of an industrial renaissance. But we don't have a skilled enough labor pool to fill the positions that will be created, which are in many cases technically demanding and require specialized skills. A decades-long series of idealistic educational policies with the expressed goal of getting every student to go to college has left a generation of potential workers out of the system. Touted as a progressive, egalitarian institution providing opportunity even to those with the greatest need, the American secondary school system has in fact deepened existing inequalities.
We can do better, argue acclaimed sociologists Katherine Newman and Hella Winston. Taking a page from the successful experience of countries like Germany and Austria, where youth unemployment is a mere 7%, they call for a radical reevaluation of the idea of vocational training, long discredited as an instrument of tracking. The United States can prepare a new, high-performance labor force if we revamp our school system to value industry apprenticeship and rigorous technical education. By doing so, we will not only be able to meet the growing demand for skilled employees in dozens of sectors where employers decry the absence of well trained workers -- we will make the American Dream accessible to all.
Katherine S. Newman is the author of twelve books on topics ranging from urban poverty to middle class economic insecurity to school violence. No Shame in My Game: the Working Poor in the Inner City received the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Book Prize and the Sidney Hillman Foundation Book Award. Newman, who has held positions at Johns Hopkins, Harvard, and Princeton, is currently provost and professor of sociology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
Hella Winston is a sociologist and investigative journalist. She has held postdoctoral fellowships in sociology at Princeton and Johns Hopkins universities and is currently a Senior Fellow at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University. She is the author of Unchosen: The Hidden Lives of Hasidic Rebels (Beacon Press, 2005). She lives in New York City.