More machinists or more English majors? Harry Moser's article starting on page 98 raises this issue. His article takes a novel approach to assessing the monetary benefits of training for skilled manufacturing employees. The figures given show that, as an investment, this training is an outstanding value. The main point is that individuals, companies and even society at large should be encouraged to invest more in this kind of training. Shops that put more into additional training for skilled people already on the job will earn especially big dividends.
Mr. Moser presents a strong case, but his comparisons with the English major made me cringe. I was one of those high school graduates who bet his future on the study of Shakespeare, Milton, Hemingway and Frost. Based on my experience, I'd like to add some comments to this discussion.
- Both manufacturing training and liberal education have merits as higher learning, but they are not the same thing. Training should be preparation for a job. An education should be preparation for a life of understanding. A job will pay the bills. The educated life makes experience more meaningful. This benefit is priceless.
- As I was years ago, many high schoolers are unaware of options such as becoming a machinist or a skilled tool and die maker. And if they are aware of such choices, most students will have to choose between a training program and the development of their thoughtful existence. This is a most unfortunate trade-off.
- The value of manufacturing training is underrated, but so is the value of majoring in English. With its emphasis on communication, expression and grasp of a cultural heritage, the English major has a good background for a variety of careers.
- Skills training and liberal education are not incompatible. Students may not have the inclination or the aptitude for both, but it's very difficult to find programs that accommodate the two interests.
- We need manufacturing specialists who've had the chance to fall in love with great literature, and we need liberal arts grads who understand how shops and factories generate wealth and support our standard of living.
I don't regret being an English major, but I am afraid that I haven't done enough to make my own children aware of all their options in training and education. I want them not only to be trained for a good job, but also educated to enjoy life fully. With both, they could give back more to society and enhance their own fulfillment. Whether they become employer or employee, I hope they will understand the value of ongoing training and continuing education.