Free Futures


It’s a no›brainer:

In 2015 I caught a flight with a student who’d graduated in genetics and biochemistry.

Impressed, I assumed the doors of a lucrative future were wide open for him.

He said there were now so many others doing similar courses he needed a master’s degree to apply for an entry level job as a lab technician.

Fifty thousand dollars of student debt leaves little room for mortgage approval, and college campus politics — educating young people to view the world through the victim/ oppressor lens of postmodern ‘‘woke’’ social justice is wearing thin with businesses and employers.

Meanwhile, apprentice carpenters, engineers, beauticians, farm or forestry cadets earn money every hour, learning to fix the housing shortage, maintain and upgrade infrastructure, fill supermarkets with food and keep the export treasury stuffed.

For a long time, manual professions were denigrated.

When I was at high school, all the options were tertiary courses.

Military and emergency services showed up for career talks, but trades and primary industries were hardly mentioned.

Anything other than university was for dummies.

The steel cap boot is on the other foot now.

Twenty years ago apprenticeships were scattered and underfunded, then pre›trade courses popped up with polytech colleges cheerfully organising loans.

Student debt is a massive wheel in global finance.

Annually, millions of students funnel billions of dollars from government to academia.

It’s lifetime debt for the first, leveraged credit for the second and pure profit for the last.

Meanwhile, a growing population has shown up insufficient housing stock, ageing infrastructure and shortfalls in primary sectors.

In a scramble, government and industry race to fill the expertise gap and keep the nuts and bolts of society together, combining free education and paid work into combinations irresistible to savvy students and jobseekers

Manual professions sort kids from adults with routine and responsibility; young men and women rub shoulders with veterans to learn the ethics of reliability, quality and contribution.

Time is money, and managing one to earn the other leaves little room for coddling.

Many can’t hack it, drop out, and frankly, end up in tertiary.

University students of medicine, teaching, Stem (science, technology, engineering, maths) and law have the best chance of clearing their debt; those in liberal arts and humanities less so, and all are encouraged to conflate work with a particular degree of political activism.

It is interesting how people with the discipline and toughness to choose physical work often struggle with paperwork, and this was held against them for too long.

Manual occupations go a long way to connecting body and mind in the vital but overlooked human need for physical activity, and community leaders emerge more commonly from among tradies, farmers and small businesses than from academic professions.

Knowing they can fall back on their trade, manual professionals are free to try their hand at new things in different places, and young people looking to the future see a world where practical skill means security, while the path they can take today literally pays to get there.