In an article published last year on the 4th of July, I wrote that our Founding-Fathers intended that the Declaration of Independence included the idea that we free citizens are entitled to: LIFE, LIBERTY, and THE PURSUIT OF OUR HAPPIEST CAREERS. For without the freedom to work in the jobs we most aspire to, can we be considered truly free? I think not, and do not want to live in a society that forces us into work we are not suited for, and do not like. That’s not a recipe for success – and it’s NOT the American Way! Other societies have tried it and failed or are on the verge of failure. What kind of system do you want to live in?

The fact that throughout most of our lifetimes, we have witnessed the destruction of what was once our great trade education system, a system that’s provided millions with unlimited opportunities to work in careers best suited to their abilities, providing them great job-satisfaction, led me to embark on a mission to restore trade education in schools, particularly high schools and community colleges. For the benefit of current and future young students, I began publicly promoting the value of trade education, now known as Career and Technical Education, or CTE, in media outlets wherever I could.

From the time I graduated from my high school’s Automotive Technology program, the curriculum I most wanted to study, but was discouraged from pursuing because their experts said I was, “too smart for shop class,” I have been advocating on various school advisory councils for the restoration of CTE programs that have been nearly wiped out over the past fifty years. Although I attended hundreds of meetings to recommend the resurrection of trade education programs that had all but disappeared, school administrators and counselors did not seem to comprehend the value of those programs and continued to defund them. These “educators,” do not seem to comprehend that most skilled tradesmen can earn more than they do, with little or no student debt, and often have higher levels of job-satisfaction.

The education bureaucracy’s lack of respect for tradesmen and trade education, and its promotion of the “college is the only road to success philosophy,” has created the current labor skills-gap, and the growing student college debt crisis, as well as increased levels of job-dis-satisfaction and anxiety in the workforce. Such, “conventional wisdom,” is dumb, and continues to harm many under-educated students, financially, and socially, as well as emotionally. Such thinking must be eradicated from our schools immediately.

Today, the need for skilled trade workers grows as our economy expands to embrace new technologies, but schools continually produce fewer students with the skills needed for every industry. The failure of schools to provide programs matched to the employment needs of the economy has led to an ever-shrinking number workers to fill 21st century, high-tech job opportunities.

The skilled labor shortage is a growing crisis. Labor Department statistics tell us that most skilled trade workers are my fellow baby-boomers, and for every three thousand of us retiring, only one thousand are being trained to replace us. With those numbers in mind, I recently asked readers to ponder the question of what happens to our economy, and our quality of life, when there a no workers with the skills needed to maintain our increasingly sophisticated and complex technology? Will all transportation systems fail? Will water & sewer systems backup, causing us to drown in you-know-what? Will factories not be able to produce the products that we no longer have people to operate? Will our military not be able to provide national security, due to lack of operational weapons systems?

These are frightening scenarios that can be avoided if we restore our once great trade education, or CTE systems – now!

Since proposing an education revolution, it’s been gratifying to see people jumping on the trade education bandwagon. Students, families, educators, businesses, politicians, and others are beginning to recognize the dis-service schools have provided students for decades. Since the enactment of the, Every Student Succeeds Act in 2015, some schools are beginning to provide equal opportunity for more students to access the education they most want – including CTE programs.

The solution to the growing labor crisis is within our power. Schools must start following the advice of Mike Rowe, our leading proponent of trade education, and expand the availability of CTE.

All citizens: Join the revolution to demand they do so now!

Mike Porcelli: life-long mechanic, adjunct professor, and host of Autolab Radio, is committed to restoring trade education in schools before it’s too late. He’s the author of the weekly newspaper column, THE OTHER SIDE OF EDUCATION that explores the impact of CTE programs on students, society, and the economy.