How Federal Policy Impacts Public Education

As well as your life and livelihood An essay about how federal policy impacts public education.

How Federal Policy Impacts Public Education

As well as your life and livelihood

Photo by Nicole Honeywill on Unsplash

Fifteen years ago, I had a manufacturing job. One day I was doing great; the next, the company sent my job to German (thanks to NAFTA), and I was laid off. I was retrained for a new job, but the lay-off set in motion a series of life-changing events from which I sometimes feel I’ve never fully rebounded. The greatest lesson I learned about the connections between education, work/labor, and policy was that the federal government plays a huge role in our national and local public education policies, career choices, and workforce development. And ignoring trends, living obliviously, and relying on the government to look out for my best interests was bad for my financial health.

Based on my experience over the years, I believe the days of asking your kid what he/she wants to be when they grow up are over unless you have business connections or a family business to fall back on. Today, career paths are determined either by kids picking from their school’s list of career cluster options (if your kid is fortunate enough to attend a school with workforce development options) or parents who are deeply involved in politics and policy use government career outlook forecasts to guide their educational attainment choices.

Read: “What is the Purpose of Public Education?

Parents who aren’t well-versed in labor forecasting and how it’s tied to public education and politics risk setting their young children up for failure and financial hardships as adults. Labor and public education are closely linked, but most people don’t realize it until it’s too late.

Labor and Public Education Go Hand-in-Hand

The United States Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) releases monthly and annual employment projections based on the needs of industry and corporations. Every ten years (coinciding with the U.S. Census), BLS also releases an economic and employment projection known as the Career Outlook which tells state and educational institutions what they think government and corporate America workforce trends will be for the next ten years. State and local workforce development boards use this information to craft the K-12 curriculum needed to prepare students as viable members of local future workforces. Local workforce development boards also enhance post-secondary educational offerings to ensure that citizens have jobs to support themselves and local communities.

Parents and adults seeking to change careers may have a hard time making ends meet for the next ten to twenty years if they don’t heed the government’s trend forecasts. Unfortunately, state and local governments do a poor job explaining the importance of these trends to the public.

Understanding the Forecast and Educational Attainment is Imperative

Few parents understand that public education is the foundation for creating future workers. This is one reason so many children graduate from college and live with their parents indefinitely. Attending college for the sake of attending college or attending without understanding career outlooks is a bad move. If graduates are not entering fields where jobs are expected to be, then they are wasting their time getting a college education.

For instance, about ten years ago, the federal government stated that businesses wanted more people who didn’t have four-year degrees, but we’ve all been conditioned to think if someone doesn’t have a four-year degree, they are subpar. Parents who weren’t aware of this trend spent thousands of dollars sending their kids to get something employers didn’t need.

Public education and labor disconnects like this cause a series of four issues:

  1. Young adults are either unemployed or underemployed.
  2. Employers don’t get the workforce they need/want.
  3. Employers recruit new hires from overseas.
  4. Our local communities suffer because it displaces American workers

Public Education Drives Everything at the Local Level

Corporate America flocks to good education systems, which is why you’ll find plenty of employment opportunities and well-paying jobs in cities and towns where public education is a priority, there are heavy investments in developing our future workforce, and kids perform well in local public education systems. In these communities, you’ll find the workforce development and local governments working closely with the public education system to ensure schools are preparing the workforce for their future forecasted needs.

Read: “The Future of Work: Las Vegas and Riverside

So if you are sending your kid to school and allowing them to blithely pick what they want to be when they grow up, you are doing yourself and your kid(s) a huge disservice. You will care for that kid way past college. As a parent, it’s your responsibility to not only make you are not only helping your child get a good education but also to help them select a track that will enable them to have a long career. Just like fashion, employment trends change. So will your child’s educational needs.

Be Intentional About Public Educational Attainment

I worked with high school students and adults in a rural community college setting for a long time, and I was always amazed at how many kids (and their parents) wanted to go to college for the sake of getting a degree. Sometimes kids thought they knew what they wanted to be, but most didn’t. Lots of kids were going to college because their parents said they had to. The parents didn’t care what their kids majored in as long as they got a degree. Word to the wise: Going someplace without a map and a plan is the worst mistake ever.

Parents need to be intentional about K-12 public education and post-secondary educational attainment in the same way they decide on the types of debt they will take on, like when they buy a new home or car. What I mean by “intentional” is making wise choices about public education and understanding how workforce policy and trade trends go hand in hand. Public education plays a vital role in our democracy and freedom. A hungry workforce will become a desperate, angry workforce, and do anything to survive. Kind of like the workforce we have now.

The following step will move your public educational attainment decisions from scattershot to intentional:

  1. Make the BLS forecasts work for you. Read the BLS forecasts frequently and compare them to your child’s skills, talents, and gifts; and guide them into one of these career tracks. You will need to cultivate your children’s interests and work with the school to ensure all the stars align. It may sound daunting, but you can do it. Thousands of other parents have done the same thing. If you’re considering a new career, follow the same process.
  2. Don’t be fooled by college offerings. It’s an open secret that colleges offer many useless career tracks knowing full well students will never get a job in those career fields. Research employment rates for college grads and study the trends. There are lots of people working in career fields different from their degrees. There are also a lot of college grads not working. Just because a college offers something doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good for you or the community.
  3. Be proactive, not reactive. Find out if your community’s public schools and colleges have career clustering tracks and if those career clusters are based on local or national career outlooks. If they don’t, contact your nearest workforce investment board to find out what’s happening locally in your community. Ask their advice on state and local trends and how you can prepare for your future or that of you and your child.
  4. Be intentional with your time and money. If you don’t have plans to move, you need to make educational attainment choices based upon what’s available to your family in your local area. Allowing your kid to go into the arts in rural Kentucky or Wisconsin may not be the wisest decision if there is no art industry or nothing forecasted for that career cluster for the next ten years.
  5. Understand education and labor are married to one another. Like any marriage, changes occur. If you’re not checking in, one partner could check out. Our federal government has an Education and Labor Committee that is supposed to work to ensure every child has the opportunity to learn and work. If education and labor are crappy in your town, this is the committee you need to contact. Also, contact your congressional representative in person and by email. If you are silent, they assume you don’t care.

Being intentional is the only way we will survive in this new America with free markets that don’t seem so free anymore. In the age of information, there is no excuse for ignorance. Make wise choices. Your life and livelihood depend on it.

Misunderstanding Public Education Can Cost You

Over the years I’ve learned that governments are terrible at telling the public the truth about what’s going on in labor and education policy, workforce investment, labor, and how individual public education decisions can make or break the future workforce of tomorrow. Back in 2014–2015, economists forecasted millennials should pursue careers in trades. The federal government even put out solicitations called H-1B Technical Skills Training Grants to community colleges and workforce development boards that provided training and related activities to workers to assist them in gaining the skills and competencies needed to get or upgrade employment in high-growth industries or economic sectors.

The goal of the training grants is to prepare Americans for high-skill jobs, reducing the dependence on foreign labor. This is an example of forecasted information linked to public education that people could use, but don’t know about because there is a breakdown in communication between the federal government (policy), state government (the trend follower and implementer of these policies), local governments (workforce development groomers), and parents/public education beneficiaries and consumers (you).

Not properly understanding the importance of public education, labor, and career outlook forecasting can cost you dearly in the short-term and long-term. You don’t want to be a parent, paying for an education your kid can never use. That’s heartbreaking. If you were a young adult heading to college and suddenly learned you’re not getting anything from all the time you dedicated to it — well that can be devastating.

Communities over-saturated with unemployed and underemployed people who aren’t able to contribute to the tax base creates stress on the local economy because employers also look at post-secondary educational attainment levels to decide where future job creation will take place. A well-educated workforce is key to state prosperity. Having a bunch of film majors in your town when the industry outlook is seeking techies is bad for the local job prospects. Having high dropout rates also deters future employers from investing in your area.

Read: “A Well-Educated Workforce Is Key to State Prosperity

Another way that poor educational attainment choices negatively impact communities is by over-saturating the market with people without degrees or people with degrees they can’t use (i.e. Criminal Justice). Employers will look elsewhere until they find a suitable workforce, or they’ll use the H1-B program and give your potential job to an immigrant.

K-12 public education systems shouldn’t be taken for granted. Nor should we ignore the impact federal public policies and legislation have on our livelihoods and future earning potential. It doesn’t matter if your kid attends the best public schools in the country if you will allow them to make the dumbest career choices based on . . . nothing. Likewise, it doesn’t matter if your child attends a poorly funded public education system. There is always more than one pathway to success. With some self-advocacy, research, and planning, parents can help their children navigate the pitfalls of unemployment, underemployment living with them long term.

We’re All in This Together

Public education and workforce development/investment is everyone’s responsibility. When people can’t/don’t work, they can’t pay taxes, can’t contribute to society, and often become a burden to parents and their communities. They may need public assistance, commit crimes to survive, go to jail for committing crimes, or parents may be forced to help them financially. Understanding how public policy at the federal level impacts public education and jobs/careers at the local level is essential to navigating the 21st century. Being proactive and guiding your children into public education career clusters which will lead to long-term career fields is vital unless you’re inclined to taking care of your adult children forever.

To learn how policy and public education intertwine, and how to make intentional educational attainment decisions, click on the links below:

At the end of the day, if you have children, it’s your responsibility to make sure they are upwardly mobile and self-sufficient adults. The government (public education) is only one piece of the puzzle. Parents and caretakers are the other pieces, and you must do your part, too. Likewise, if you suddenly find yourself unemployed and are offered the opportunity to retrain and you don’t consider BLS’s career outlook and local workforce investment trends, don’t be angry if your educational choice causes you to be chronically unemployed.