March 6, 2005


Drop out and get a trade: PM (Elizabeth Colman and Ebru Yaman, 07-03-2005, The Australian)

JOHN Howard has urged young people to consider quitting school in Year 10 to pursue careers in traditional trades in response to the nation's growing shortage of skilled workers.

Sixteen years after the Hawke government promised Australia would become the "Clever Country", Mr Howard said the nation had developed a "deep-seated" cultural stigma against technical vocations.

The Prime Minister said yesterday school leavers who learnt a trade often ended up much better off than if they had continued on with a university education.

"We went through a generation where parents discouraged their children from trades, and they said to them, 'the only way you'll get ahead in life is to stay at school until Year 12 then go to university'," Mr Howard told Channel Seven.

"High Year 12 retention rates became the goal, instead of us as a nation recognising there are some people who should not go to university. What (these people) should do is at Year 10 decide they're going to be a tradesman.

"They'll be just as well off and, in my experience and observation, greatly better off than many others."

There are certainly many people for whom this is true, but fruit-picking isn't a trade.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 6, 2005 4:55 PM

In a given birth year about half go to College. Maybe half of those graduate with a meaningful degree. What are we doing for the other three quarters?

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at March 7, 2005 1:56 AM

Robert, if you aren't getting a degree in math, the sciences, engineering or business, then your degree is meaningless and both you and the nation are better off if you learn a trade.

Sadly, because vocational education in America is such a disgrace, the community colleges and for-profit institutions like DeVry and ITT Tech have had to pick up the slack.

Posted by: Bart at March 7, 2005 6:46 AM

For the nation is arguable, but not "for you". Bureaucracy, endless numbers of psychological/ counselling type of jobs (talk about a growth industry), social work, administration and human resources, politics, activism/diplomacy, the arts, heath services too numerous to count, entertainment and sports industries (also expanding wildly), municipal planning, every other kind of planning, etc, etc. are all promising careers with class and status implications and to which entry is progressively more restricted as we turn everyday human experience into formal disciplines. Not a healthy sign, to be sure, but far from materially useless to the individual student. It would take a mean-spirited parent to deny or scorn his kid's desire to head in any of these ways. There was a time when conservatives felt business and engineering were trades and had no place in higher education. Some of us still do.

And the traditional vocations of law, teaching, the military and holy orders still rest to some extent on the classical liberal arts.

Posted by: Peter B at March 7, 2005 8:41 AM


Societies that put so much emphasis on 'soft' fields rather than hard ones, or in areas dependent on the increasing size and scope of government are doomed to disaster. Canada will inevitably become Argentina and sooner rather than later. You can see the process in Western Europe.

Architecture counts as 'engineering' and medicine counts as 'science.' As for psychologists, counsellors, social workers, public administrators and human resources types, I would sooner dig a large hole throw my children into it,pour gasoline over it and light a match before I would approve of, much less encourage, them engaging in such parasitic pursuits.

As long as you have bucks all the other areas are open to you, and most need the techie background rather than the soft one because anyone smarter than a doorknob can pick up the touchy-feely crap along the way.

The military academies in the US have been primarily engineering schools since before the Civil War. The same is true in France and Germany. Bonaparte's first great distinction was as a math student at St Cyr. One expects perhaps the Canadian military academy specializes more in finger-painting and cookie-baking.

Holy orders and the law are parasitic in nature, serving virtually no purpose. The only real reason for a commercial enterprise to hire a lawyer is to protect it from other lawyers. Not unlike mafiosi without the red sauce. As for teaching, it all depends what you teach.

Posted by: Bart at March 7, 2005 11:54 AM