" Youth would have Cause to complain, if they were condemned to spend eight or ten of the best Years of their Life in learning, at a great Expence," things "they would seldom have Occasion to use." Instead, schools should teach enough "science" to prep young people "for the different Employments to which it shall please God to call them." Plus good "principles" and "habits." -- Ben Franklin, Proposals Relating to the Education of Youth in Pennsylvania, 1749
Franklin was, famously, a runaway apprentice who walked to Philadelphia empty-handed and made himself useful, respected and rich. Could a young Franklin do as well today? asked Patrick Harker, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, in a Franklin Day talk at the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia this morning.
Here's a puzzle, Harker told the crowd: "The unemployment rate for Pennsylvania is higher than the national average. But when I talk to employers and business owners, they say they can’t find qualified applicants.
"There are people out there who want jobs and employers who have them; the gap is in skills."
Fed researchers in Philly say nearly one-third of all U.S. jobs pay the national average of around $48,000 or more-- and don't require a college degree. Harker said public schools should do more to prep workers for these jobs.
Some do, he added: The Philadelphia Academies project at Roxborough High and other Philadelphia public schools are targeting these jobs by adding courses that are supposed to make students job-ready on graduation in subjects "from international entrepreneurship to biotech."
Too many Philadelphia and upstate kids seem caught in a "cycle of poverty" in families where no one has a good job or seems to know how to get one, Harker added.
America's "fundamental ethos is that anyone can be anything they want if they work hard. Ben Franklin himself is a testament to this... Franklin saw the value of helping people and places in the future," leaving his fortune to Boston and Philadelphia to pay for apprenticeship programs.
This underlines the Founding Father belief "that everyone should have an equal chance at success. It is the soul of democracy and the foundation of any fair society."
"Maybe someone as extraordinary as Ben Franklin would’ve succeeded anyway, if he’d been born today, despite having to leave school at such a young age."
But for others, "the next Ben Franklin could be out there, but barriers are preventing him — or her— from succeeding." Those barriers can be "multiple, tangled factors — education, training, affordable housing, child care, even basics like transportation. If you can’t get to work, you can’t work."
It should be the Fed's goal, through its research and Harker's role as "convenor" of business, banking, labor and community leaders, "to make sure economic growth is inclusive and that every person has access to the tools needed to achieve his or her fullest potential," he concluded.
"To quote Ben again: 'An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.'"