As a founding board member of Employment Means Success, I am keenly aware of the hurdles facing unemployed workers in San Bernardino County. Employment Means Success is an Inland Empire non-profit that finds jobs for unemployed workers in our community. These people—our neighbors—want nothing more than the dignity of earning their own way and the ability to provide for themselves and their families.
We currently have dozens of federal, state, and local jobs initiatives including the California Training Benefits Program, One Stop Jobs Centers, and Jobs Corps. But these programs suffer from two big problems:
- They fail to train workers for twenty-first century jobs.
- They can’t overcome the high tax and regulatory costs that crush job creation and reduce take-home pay.
We can address the first problem by putting renewed emphasis on vocational training. Here in San Bernardino County, plumbers, electricians, and other skilled tradespeople earn up to 55% more than recent college graduates. Yet we have virtually eliminated vocational training from our public schools.
This has to stop. We must make vocational training a priority again. Our young people should have the opportunity to learn practical skills that earn high wages. They should have the opportunity to begin working in a high-paying trade directly out of high school, rather than spending many years attempting to gain a college degree that in many cases won’t pay the bills.
Our educational system should promote vocational training by changing the way it awards academic certifications. Instead of broad degree categories like the associate’s degree and the bachelor’s degree, we need to switch to a system of skills-based certifications that clearly indicate what concepts, techniques, and skills a student has mastered.
The government can jump-start this new system of skills certifications by changing the way it advertises for government jobs. Instead of requiring, for example, a “bachelor’s degree” for a given job opening, the government should post a list of the skills required by that job. Anybody who has those skills will be eligible to apply whether or not they ever earned an old-style bachelor’s degree. This new system of skill-based hiring will become the economy’s new standard. Good jobs will be available without having to sit through useless classes.
But real prosperity will only be realized if businesses can afford to hire people. Unfortunately, taxes and red tape strangle jobs here in San Bernardino County as well as in the rest of the country.
The consequences are heartbreaking. Unemployment rips families apart. It causes depression and crushes hope. It removes the dignity of earned success and the pride that comes from being able to provide for oneself and one’s family.
That is why it is so crucial to get the unemployed members of our community back to work as quickly as possible. If they cannot reach the first rung on the ladder of success, they will be left behind at ground level, with decaying skills and no way to support themselves or their families.
The government can help with sensible policies that increase the willingness of employers to hire and train the unemployed. A major step forward will be tax credits and direct subsidies for hiring the unemployed. Millions of unemployed workers will be able to get back on the ladder of success, learn new skills, and move on to higher paying jobs. They will also be earning their own keep and contributing with taxes instead of having to depend on costly government assistance programs to get by.