Young people should be encouraged to pursue trade skills

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Congressman Duncan Hunter (CA-50) has introduced a bill that highlights an interesting problem this generation of young Americans is facing: lack of access to practical jobs.

The bill, DRIVE Act, officially named the Developing Responsible Individuals for a Vibrant Economy Act, amends federal regulations which currently prevent truck drivers under the age of 21 from crossing state lines.

Congressman Duncan Hunter (CA-50) has introduced a bill that highlights an interesting problem this generation of young Americans is facing: lack of access to practical jobs.

The bill, DRIVE Act, officially named the Developing Responsible Individuals for a Vibrant Economy Act, amends federal regulations which currently prevent truck drivers under the age of 21 from crossing state lines.

“Unfortunately, we see many young Americans faced with the choice of either taking on thousands of dollars in college debt or entering into a job market with grim prospects for untrained workers,” said Hunter.  “My legislation addresses this issue in the trucking industry by allowing qualified drivers under the age of 21 to enter into an intensive vehicle operation and mentor-apprentice training program, allowing them to cross state lines moving freight across the country.  This is a common-sense approach that creates job opportunities for younger workers and provides a vital resource to America’s trucking industry that is critical in supporting our growing domestic economy.”

Whatever your opinion of the young Republican, his bill addresses a critical issue, one that has been overlooked by many or blamed on “lazy millennials.” 

The truth is, many young people are not even given the option of developing a trade skill. The university route is put on a pedestal. 

When I was studying for my paralegal certificate at community college, my professors, friends of my parents and strangers alike told me I was wasting my talents by not pursuing a bachelor’s degree. At the time, I had nowhere close to the resources I needed to attend a university and I knew I did not need a degree to enter the field of work I had chosen – my rationale was ignored. 

University is shoved on young people indiscriminately, without taking into concern what their interests are or where their talents lie. Office jobs are not for everyone – not to mention that not everyone who graduates with a degree is guaranteed an office job anyway. 

Something in our culture has become snobbish, that we would look down our noses at those who choose to spend their life as plumbers, electricians or truck drivers. Where would our society be without those essential individuals? Our communities have collectively become that grandmother who insists that her grandchildren become lawyers and doctors – as someone who spent a lot of time at community college, I would know what it feels like to be considered a disappointment by some. 

The sad thing is, for a long time, I considered myself a disappointment as well. It was hard not to compare myself to my peers, especially when we all grew up in a world that told us that success is defined by the degree you get, the college you attend, the size of your paycheck. 

Sure, that is certainly a kind of success. But many of our ancestors, success was in simply building homes for their families and establishing a place to call their own. It was found in the pursuit of happiness, not necessarily money, and in the goodness that can be created through hard work and passion. That is a much looser definition, and for good reason! 

Success will look different for everyone.

Which brings us back to our high schoolers and the boxes we are forcing them into by insisting that “best” option is going to a university. 

We put so many regulations and restrictions on what young workers can and cannot do, many of which made it nearly impossible for me to get a job in high school. Although the intents are good and meant to keep our youth from being abused in the workplace, it also prevents them from being able to take on responsibility and learn to provide for themselves and for others. It stagnates the maturing process. And yet we willingly throw these same young people onto college campuses, asking them to make massive financial commitments to futures they are unsure about with money they have yet to make, money that most of them do not even have a working appreciation for because they have never had the opportunity to earn it. 

The systems funnels as many students into colleges and universities as possible, ignoring to the great detriment of our communities and our young people the work opportunities right here at home. 

To some extent, the communities of East County are beginning to address these concerns. Project Cornerstone in Lakeside is trying to educate young people about the areas many quarries and the job opportunities that surround them.

Cuyamaca college has a celebrated Ornamental Horticulture program just drew notice from the community at large for its showing at the National Collegiate Landscape Competition, in which the team ranked against competitors from four-year colleges and universities around the country. Grossmont and Cuyamaca both offer programs for very specific, technical skill positions that allow students to attain the qualifications needed to jump straight into the workforce.

Several of my good friends work as barbers and cosmetologists, graphic designers and bakers, and are loving the debt-free life. Others write for this newspaper. 

There are also local organizations like the Small Business Association have resources for entrepreneuring spirits to put life into their own ideas. 

None of these promise financial security, of course. But I think our country, our state, our corner of San Diego would do well to encourage our young men and women to engage in good honest toil and drop the pressure to attend a four-year college. The respect for honest jobs must be returned to our communities and our young people. Let them fix things, let them build things, let them pave things. Let them drive trucks. 

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