Four-year colleges and universities are not the only path to prosperity; community colleges and technical schools offer cost-effective pipelines to the workforce, writes Staff Writer Richard P. Hand. For more on the role community colleges can play in promoting social mobility, check out Mary Deweese’s Failed: The Myths And Realities Of Community Colleges, and How to Fulfill the American Dream Through Community College Reform. Available on WestLaw and Lexis.
by Richard P. Hand
Throughout the 2016 presidential campaign, then-candidate Donald Trump often spoke about the nation’s loss of unskilled manufacturing jobs. For many of his followers, “Make America Great Again” was the rallying cry for bringing back American manufacturing jobs.
One can see the logical appeal to his simple message. Factories that hired employees for unskilled manufacturing jobs were in America. Factories that hired employees for unskilled manufacturing jobs are now in other countries. Therefore, if we bring back said factories to America, then there will be more unskilled manufacturing jobs.
The harsh reality, however, is that the factories that once hired a multitude of unskilled workers now hire a few unskilled workers and use a multitude of automated machines. While bringing back unskilled manufacturing jobs may sound appealing, at best it could provide a short-term fix for a few unemployed Americans, and at worst it could create trade wars that drive up prices on everyday goods.
Instead of implementing a short-sided strategy to bring back jobs for unskilled workers, President Trump should work with federal and state policymakers to focus on investing in the unskilled workers themselves. One way that policymakers can invest in unskilled workers is by providing opportunities for workers to learn and develop marketable skills in community colleges and technical schools.
Currently, many unskilled laborers lack the time and funds to attend a traditional four-year university. Community colleges and technical schools, however, offer a fast and cost efficient way to gain valuable job training through entry-level college coursework and career and technical training.
Community colleges and technical schools are already cheaper than their four-year alternatives. Further, states such as Tennessee have begun to offer free tuition to community college and technical school students who meet certain requirements. Since founding the state program in 2015, Tennessee has already enrolled 33,000 students in local community colleges at no cost to the student.
The time commitment for these schools ranges from less than one year for certificate programs to two years for associate degrees. Additionally, almost any increase in education or skill development allows laborers to earn a higher wage than their unskilled counterparts. 
Oftentimes these skilled workers are in high demand. In 2016, an estimated 2,000,000 skilled labor jobs could go unfilled in the manufacturing industry alone.
Through an increase in funding for community colleges and trade schools, President Trump and other policymakers should prepare Americans for the jobs of the present and future, instead of inefficiently bringing back the jobs of the past.
 Tessa Berenson, Read Donald Trump’s Speech on Jobs and the Economy, Time, (Sep. 15 2016), http://time.com/4495507/donald-trump-economy-speech-transcript/.
 Mark Muro, Manufacturing Jobs Aren’t Coming Back, MIT Tech. Rev. (Nov. 18, 2016), https://www.technologyreview.com/s/602869/manufacturing-jobs-arent-coming-back/.
 John Schoen, These States Would Get Hurt Worst in a Trump Trade War, CNBC (Jan. 23, 2016), http://www.cnbc.com/2017/01/23/these-states-would-get-hurt-most-in-a-trump-trade-war.html.
 Tami Luhby, More Than Half of Middle-Class Kids Fail to Earn Bachelor’s Degrees,
CNN (Mar. 25, 2015), http://money.cnn.com/2015/03/25/news/economy/middle-class-kids-college/.
 Free Community College, Nat’l Conf. of State Legislatures, (Apr. 25, 2016), http://www.ncsl.org/research/education/free-community-college.aspx.
 Ashley Smith, Replicating the Tennessee Promise, Inside Higher Ed (March 2, 2017), https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2017/03/02/replicating-tennessees-approach-free-community-college-takes-money-and-more.
 Cassandra Dortch, Career and Technical Education (CTE): A Primer, Cong. Res. Services (Feb. 10, 2015).
 Carol Hymowitz, Millions of Manufacturing Jobs Could Go Unfilled, Bloomberg Business Week (Mar. 16, 2017), https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-03-16/millions-of-manufacturing-jobs-could-go-unfilled.