It is unfortunate that the importance of vocational education has diminished over the past twenty five years. The emphasis that used to be placed on learning a trade that would provide a living has disappeared with the typewriter and slide rule. We are no longer encouraging students to become skilled tradespersons. The vocational mentoring programs of recent past have been supplanted with SAT Prep courses. Where will we find skilled mechanics, plumbers, welders, farmers and masons in the coming decades? Who will care for our children, repair our cars, cut our hair, cook and serve our meals at a restaurant?
A point has been reached in American Education in particular, where the skilled laborer is disrespected and undue importance is placed on academic secondary education. We have undervalued the experience that can be gleaned through practical application in favor of the classroom lecture. Unlike the European academic model, the US education system pushes all students toward pursuing a post high school academic path. Statistics show that only 25% of all students complete post high school degrees. However high schools routinely tout their matriculation to college statistics with great aplomb.
The higher the percentage of college bound graduates, the more prestigious and successful is the school and its faculty. Those schools where the percentages show smaller pools of graduates accepted into a college of university are deemed “at risk” schools. The perception is that schools who “fail” to prepare their students for college are failing our students and society in general. Why is failure measured in this manner? Failure is when a student drops out of school because he or she cannot achieve any success through academic process solely. We do not take into consideration a particular student’s aptitude for a skilled vocation.
When current high school students indicate a plan for their future that does not include application to college, eyebrows are raised. Few parents are willing to consider that post high school academic education might not be the correct path for their child. Most parents want someone else’s child to become their mechanic or gardener while their child obtains a medical degree from Stanford or Yale. Funding for vocational classes such as shop and graphic arts has been cut dramatically or is non existent in public schools. The real tragedy is that studies have shown that the correlation between lower drop out rates
and vocational education programs is significant. Many students benefit from career and technical education that allows them to apply academic and technical skills to real world applications. This motivates them to stay in school. Drop out rates decrease for non college bound youth when they participate in a vocational program. When a student is motivated and excited about learning not only does the student benefit but so does society. The motivated student is more likely to complete his education and to provide for himself in a conventional manner.
The high school dropout is more likely to be a recipient of public assistance. Dropouts are more likely to be incarcerated than high school graduates. Over half of all inmates dropped out of high school. The “School to Work” program was hugely controversial in the early 1990’s with parents alarmed at the idea of “pigeonholing” their children. The program was based on the European education model which directs students entering high school into either an academic college preparation or vocational technical education track. Those entering the academic track are prepared for a university education beyond high school.
Conversely those who complete the vocational track enter the workforce with a vocational or technical skill. Enough opposition was generated that the program largely failed to be implemented. As our society becomes more and more technically advanced, the need for skilled technicians increases. Vocational education could keep pace with the demand if it were offered to high school students. Currently the cost of tuition at a post high school technical college can run $12,000 to $15,000 per year making the post high school training out of reach for most.
Wouldn’t it be great if we could provide students with the necessary skills to make a living upon their high school graduation? What a novel idea it is that all of us should have something to fall back upon should the degree in Urban Existentialism turn out to be difficult to monetize. We are experiencing a severe labor shortage in skilled trades such as electricians, carpenters, HVAC and welders as qualified journeymen near retirement age. Unions are experiencing drops in membership and journeyman training programs are seeing low recruitment levels.
In general unions have lost the power and influence that they used to hold. The lure of climbing a telephone tower to make repairs or caring for the elderly is not what is used to be. I and I venture to guess, millions of other Americans like knowing that SCE will send out linesmen in the wind storms to make repairs so I can stay in touch with my parents and children. I enjoy knowing that my grandmother was cared for by a loving woman who enjoyed her job despite the long hours and low pay. When did hard work become a four letter word?
Why is it that we want our children to marry an engineer or dentist, but cringe at the thought that they should end up with a garbage collector? Attitudes must change and skills of all types need to be respected. The American Education System must recognize that they play a pivotal role in the preparation of youth for whatever future career path they are best suited. All of us have different and special talents and aptitudes; those are the qualities that demand to be nourished. And when the day is done, we will all benefit from a well trained, confident workforce.