When it came time to discuss employment and workforce development issues in a post-pandemic economy, Stephanie Ruhle played the long game.
One of the biggest issues predates COVID — and even the turn of the century — the MSNBC host said. Ruhle said it is the result of generations of a failed educational policy, giving an explanation she gathered from noted entrepreneur and former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg.
“He would say, ’We made a huge mistake in the last 50 years in America, that we told people that in order to be socially acceptable, in order to have the brand of being good parent, your kid has to go to college,’” she said.
“We sent scores of kids who were not necessarily academically geared to colleges for degrees that they didn’t want. More importantly, they did not need — degrees that were not connected to the jobs of today, tomorrow or even yesterday.”
It’s why Ruhle is such a proponent of vocational schools and other unique training methods — but not necessarily at the expense of the nation’s recent push to credit more kids with STEM, or science, technology, engineering and mathematics, degrees.
“While it’s fantastic that we have magnet schools, while it’s fantastic that we’ve created more and more gifted and talented programs for kids that are the academic top — and we’ve got these unbelievable programs to pull kids up — that’s a small portion of our kids,” she said. “The fact that we wiped out vo-tech is crazy to me.”
And hurting society, Ruhle said.
“Workforce development is the most important thing if you care about social change, care about economic development, care about how people can rise up from the bottom — that starts with getting into the foundation of a great education,” she said.
Ruhle, speaking Tuesday at the seventh annual Middlesex County Business Summit at the New Brunswick Performing Arts Center, is a subject-matter expert.
Not only is she one of the top business journalists in the country — one who actually breaks stories — she previously was a top Wall Street executive. That one-two punch of knowledge led to a widely entertaining — and passionate — fireside chat.
Which included a plea for more respect for teachers — and more effort to recruit another generation of them. The teacher shortage is another key aspect in the nation’s workforce development failures, Rhule said.
“What breaks my heart is that when we talk about education right now, all we’re talking about is social issues and cultural issues,” she said. “I’m not saying they don’t have value; they do. But what really does is giving our children the foundation.
“When is the last time we had a conversation about schools in this country and it had to do with the teacher shortage — and it had to do with the learning loss because of COVID? Those, to me, are the two biggest crises that are facing education in this country, more than social issues are.”
This is a workforce issue, Ruhle stressed.
“I don’t have the emotional strength to talk about books that we’re banning,” she said. “Let’s get the emotional strength to talk about hiring librarians — and how we’re going to get kids coming out of college to want to be teachers.
“Let’s pay our teachers and respect our teachers.”
Read this article in its entirety as it originally appeared Sept. 27, 2023 in ROI-NJ.