No, teaching blue collar workers to be engineers is not a practical solution

The Mel Magazine article Blue-collar workers who become white-collar later in life, went viral. The article gives three examples of blue collar workers who acquired high paying skills, such as engineering, predictably leading to higher pay, nicer working conditions, improved self-confidence, and new opportunities.

“I aced both classes. I did the same the next semester, and aced those classes as well. Small wins kept coming, and I really enjoyed what I was doing,” he says. “Once I got past the core classes,” he discovered that “engineering was what I’d always been meant to do.” Moreover, he wanted to be “someone my kids looked up to. … I remembered how hard things were growing up with both parents in blue-collar jobs, and I wanted my kids to have opportunities that I didn’t have,” he says.

Still, Bordeau calls it the best decision he could have made. “It made me more confident and proud of myself for choosing the long road with a more rewarding result. Age should never stop you from trying to better yourself.”

Obviously, what’s not to like about trading in your crappy delivery job or job that requires standing on one’s feet all day for a comfy, high-paying desk job?

At the end, the author suggests that the stories of “Karl, Mike and Dave” are applicable to all blue collar workers who have been or will be displaced due to technology and other factors:

As blue-collar work dries up and the pressure for higher education remains high, more and more people will end up making the same transition as Karl, Mike and Dave. It’s not an easy transition, but having “a focus on internal abilities and strengths is helpful,” Heiser says.

Umm…except as anyone who understands even the basics about IQ knows, these stories are not applicable. Not even by a mile. All the author did was cherry pick three successes without even considering how astonishingly unlikely it is for three blue collar workers chosen at random to become engineers.

Mechanical engineering is considered to be a difficult subject, with a low completion rate relative to other majors. As shown below, according to Wonderlic test data, which is considered to be a proxy for IQ (despite only being 12 minutes, the Wonderlic has a .6-.9 correlation with the WAIS), engineers have Wonderlic-converted IQ scores of around 125. This is also corroborated by IQ-to-SAT conversions which show that engineers have IQs of around 120-130. By comparison, blue collar workers have Wonderlic-converted IQ scores of around 95. That’s a huge difference.

So assuming a mean IQ of 95 for blue collar workers, what percent of them are smart enough to become engineers (>125)? Assuming a normal distribution of IQ scores with a mean of 95 and a standard deviation of 15, not many. Only 2.3%! So the odds of three blue collar workers chosen at random all being smart enough to become engineers is about 1/125,000. That’s pretty slim. Obviously, the three examples chosen by the author occurring by chance is exceedingly unlikely and is a product of selection bias. This is why one-off success stories such as the 2016 best-seller Hillbilly Elegy need to be put in their correct statistical context, and why well-intentioned programs that try to teach laid off miners how to code have had such low success rates.

But it gets even worse. According to a recent Jordan Peterson and Stefan Molyneux video, “the depressing reality is that 10% of the population (IQ less than 83) is not smart enough to be useful to society.”

This seems like another version of “teach miners to code,” except instead of coding, it’s engineering. Even though, technically, the articles were not demeaning to miners, there’s a reason why there was such a strong backlash, not because the articles were intentionally mean-spirited, but because they invoked the archetype of paternalistic liberal elitism and obliviousness. In trying to help, the liberal media shows it’s out of touch again by not being aware of its own bubble.

However, to be fair and to not just pick on the left, National Review’s Kevin Williamson, in publishing his now-infamous ‘towns deserve to die’ article, holds the dubious distinction of writing quite possibly the most hated article ever, which in a rare feat of bipartisanship united both the left and the right against it and its author, and pretty much was a contributing factor for NRO’s precipitous decline into irrelevance since 2016. Kevin raised some good points, but had his use of rhetoric not been so strong maybe people would have come around to what he was saying or find agreement with some of his arguments, but all he dd was piss everyone off.

Both mainstream-left and the mainstream-right are wrong about this issue, choosing to sidestep this reality by defaulting to the usual platitudes: “Unemployed people need to work harder” and “Corporations should hire more. More money should be spent on training programs and education.” Both ignore the role of IQ, in that someone with an IQ below, say, 83, will find it very difficult to be self-sufficient without government benefits. Even someone with an IQ as high as 95 may find it difficult or even impossible to transition to highly skilled work.

What we need are reality-based solutions and a conversation that rather than pandering to our political constituencies, addresses the unique challenges that are facing Americans now. But even other liberals are aware of this, and is why articles such as The smug style in American liberalism, as part of what I have defined to be post-2016 trend of ‘concern liberalism‘, go viral, because many ‘reasonable’ liberals realize that if they don’t address their own weaknesses, blind spots, and biases, their opponents, who are very much aware of them, will, as Trump’s win showed.