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After graduation: What's next?

Ed McKinney, Community Voices • May 4, 2019 at 8:00 AM

Editor’s Note: Today, retired educator Ed McKinney joins our team of volunteer Community Voices columnists.

In a few weeks or even days, the best and brightest of our young people will be graduating from high school and universities in our neighborhoods. For many high school graduates the question about what to do next after graduation has already been answered.

Those who can afford to attend a college or university most likely have already made their choices. Even those who hope to learn a specific trade are planning to attend a community college or a specialty school to develop that trade. Those who cannot afford to attend a college or university or those who are not sure what the next step is for them, will begin to look for a job.

For some students it is better to wait a year before entering college so they can determine their best choice for a career and to chose a major that best fits that choice. Far too many college graduates have majored in a subject that is not a part of their chosen career and often find they need additional education to advance in that career.

There are multiple problems for all graduates lurking around the corner. For high school graduates who plan to go out of Tennessee to attend a university and to borrow the funds necessary to get a college degree face the dilemma that the four years of university education is going to cost them ten or more years after graduation of trying to pay off that debt. The cost of interest on the loan raises the cost of education and the interest does not go to the school but rather to the lender or as some would say “the enabler.” For university graduates who have already borrowed the funds necessary to acquire their degree, it will soon be time to begin to repay that loan. Currently, the amount owed for student loans is greater than all credit card debt, greater than all automobile loans and has reached the staggering level of $1.5 trillion dollars owed. The number of former students behind in their monthly payments is also troubling.

Although there are employment ads in the Johnson City Press or signs posted in the community from employers looking to hire workers, most jobs are part-time and include no benefits. And unfortunately, there are no major employers other than those in healthcare and education that are looking for university graduates. Most of those jobs are already filled by previous graduates. In Johnson City we do have a few other employers needing skilled workers that do offer some limited benefits, but not enough to keep all of our brightest and best of well educated students from leaving the community. So we will see once again a brain drain for the community. You cannot stay in a community that does not offer many opportunities for a high wage sector job. How do you live and pay off a student loan on a low wage sector job? Unless you live with your parents, you cannot survive and most likely with be in default of your student loan. Then your credit history takes a hit when you most likely will need it the most in your life.

How many bright and well educated young people do you know that have already left our community after graduation to seek well paying jobs elsewhere? The answer is — many are no longer residents of this community because they were unable to secure a well-paying job with decent benefits. Unfortunately, too many of our leaders have not been seeking to acquire major new employers for our area. We seem to be pushing for development of a tourist type community rather than seeking a corporate type community. The problem associated with this type of thinking is that we are attempting to create low sector jobs with no benefits rather than seeking to create high sector jobs with benefits.

This is most evident when you look at the re-development of downtown Johnson City. Of all the businesses that have entered the downtown market most provide part-time jobs with no benefits. These are not permanent jobs that can grow a community. Take a look at the majority of employers in our community and you will find most are seeking part-time employees. The risk-takers (owners) probably do make a decent livable wage but the majority of the employees will not.

The death of a community that once thrived can be found by looking at the industries that moved from that community and were not replaced with corporations that offer well paying jobs. Those communities that are still around find that the poverty levels are greater, individual wages are much lower, there are more homeless citizens and that growth of the community is stagnant or even worse, negatively impacted. Even those in our local government have indicated that the revenue collections are showing little or no growth.

The jobs of the future are embedded in robots to do the work of individuals, driverless trucks and automobiles, solar and wind energy, software and app development, financial managers, cyber information/data security, scientific and medical research development, health care medical services including artificial intelligent trained physicians and fitness and wellness experts, e-commerce like web development and digital marketing, environmental specialists, artificial intelligence in business and military, skilled laborers in the building industry including carpenters, electricians, plumbers, HVAC specialists, brick layers and roof installers, as well as automotive technicians with computer skills.

Of all the jobs listed above we need to have leaders in the community committed to bringing new corporate industry into our area to create the jobs like those listed above for our next generation of workers. That's not to say that we cannot also pursue a tourist attraction. However, it should not be our main job development for our young people. We are fortunate to have tremendous schools and universities in our community that do an excellent job of educating our young people. Don't our graduates deserve much more than a part-time job or even a low wage full time job with no benefits?

Ed McKinney is a retired Johnson City business education teacher.

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