Vocational education gaining respect

Vocational education programs have been around since the early 1900s; the modern name for the specialized hands-on education is “Career and Technical Education” (CTE). Labor markets have become more specialized through time, and the economy in the United States is demanding higher levels of skills. Vocational education is on the rise, and its perception is improving in society.

The perception of vocational education continues to improve as we reteach the value of the vocational occupations in society. Vocational education should not be considered second-tier to the four-year postsecondary degree. Technical employers are saying they cannot find enough skilled workers to fulfill their open positions.

Workers in these specialized vocational fields can actually receive much higher-paying first jobs and have much less debt than their peers who are job-hunting with a bachelor’s degree. For example, a high school graduate who pursues a two-year vocational degree in a high-demand specialized field, such as welding, will likely have a higher salary and immediate placement.

The National Education Association released a research study that stated the vast majority (70 percent) of the U.S. labor force does not have a bachelor’s degree. Approximately 74 percent are working in middle-skill (42 percent) or low-skill jobs (32 percent) that typically require a high school education or some college.

According to Mark Philips, an Edutopia columnist, “vocational education on both a secondary and post-secondary level should be highly valued, well-funded and effectively implemented. The first steps can and should be taken on a local level.”

Many businesses are investing in vocational education through training organizations and subsidized apprenticeships. With this specialized movement in the industries, it is becoming increasingly more important to pursue vocational training in high school. If students have the opportunity, they are able to graduate from high school with a professional certificate in addition to their diplomas. Some of these students are actually trained for needed technical specialties by their future employers.

High schools are effectively working on bridging the gap for students who are entering the workforce and not interested in a traditional postsecondary four-year degree. Engaging students in a field of interest keeps them motivated academically throughout their four years of high school.

At Mt. Vernon High School, junior and senior students have the opportunity to attend either Anderson Career and Technology Center or Walker Career Center for half the school day. Mt. Vernon High School pays for the tuition, and students are responsible for their own transportation. Class options are endless: Advanced Culinary Arts, Advanced Hospitality Management, Automotive Collision Repair Technology, Computer Tech Support, Construction Trades, Cosmetology, Criminal Justice, Dental Careers, Early Childhood Education, Aerospace, and Veterinary Careers, among many others.

Vocational education is an alternative way of teaching math, science and reading through a hands-on method. For example, students are still learning many valuable state-mandated academic lessons but in a more practical way. These vocational programs are valuable, not only producing skilled members of the workforce but also providing a creative outlet for students who enjoy hands-on learning. The vocational students can receive specialized skills in their respective area of interest, providing them with experience and skills needed to succeed in their field.

The Mt. Vernon Community School Corp. (MVCSC) understands the importance of having a vocational offering for students locally, as not all students have the transportation means to take classes elsewhere. Further research is under way to offer vocational training and industry certifications at MVCSC, as well as other possible programs such as expanding dual credit options, adult learning opportunities (e.g., Ivy Tech), and possibly an Early College Program (University High School). These programs can produce revenue while offering an educational benefit to students.

Some high schools in the United States are creating internship programs to help students gain practical experience. The student interns are then mentored by an on-site professional and visited by their school adviser. Mt. Vernon High School offers “Interdisciplinary Cooperative Education” (ICE) for seniors who are interesting in obtaining work experience while getting paid. Some larger national companies partner with Mt. Vernon High School and offer an internship through ICE.

The education system is not just preparing people to work, but to become citizens. In a democracy, you need citizens who can think critically. People who have jobs are often better citizens. Vocational education prepares students to become productive citizens prepared to excel in their field, with less debt and more specialized training.

Maria Bond serves as the director communications for Mt. Vernon Community School Corp. Send comments to dr-editorial@greenfield reporter.com.