Thursday, August 13, 2009

Sue Scheff: Vocational Education

Vocational Education

“I think, just in general, in America people think that you have to go to college and you have to have a regular white-collared job - where you don’t get your hands dirty.”

– Debbie Brown, Career Coach and Consultant

The President’s Council of Economic Advisors reports that the jobs of tomorrow are nursing, construction, plumbing, and auto mechanics. We will need more workers for all of these and that means we may have to reconsider the value of vocational training.

The dream of 18-year-old Travis Murphy is to become an auto mechanic for Mercedes. “From what I’ve been told, [in] their first year they make around 40-thousand,” says Travis, “and then it just continuously goes up from there - with more certifications and experience.”

In the next five to ten years, the greatest job growth will be in plumbing, nursing and auto repair- all jobs that require vocational training or an associate’s degree.

But some kids don’t think highly of these jobs. “It is something that is, for certain populations, frowned upon - because it is not considered more of a professional job, says Debbie Brown, a career coach and consultant. “But those jobs can be very well-paying, depending on what you want to do and your skill level.”

Brown says that, while some blue-collar jobs like manufacturing and textiles are disappearing or getting outsourced, others, like plumbing, carpentry, and electrical work pay well and are in demand.

“If your car breaks down, you have to get it serviced if you want it to keep running,” she notes. “So sometimes people will put off repairs for a little bit, but they can’t put them off for too long.”

What’s more, she says, some students will enjoy physical jobs where they can work with their hands. “And there’s so many people who are just not suited to sitting in front of a desk,” says Brown.

If students choose a trade instead of college, she says, parents should help them get the best possible training. “Find out what the best trade and technical schools are in your community; two-year colleges, technical schools,” she advises. “Talk to these people, find out the best match in terms of the program for them - and get them into the best programs, so they can get the best skills and the best training.”

Travis, meanwhile, works on cars for half the day at his Vo-Tech school. When he graduates, he’ll spend a year and a half at a technical college. “And then after that I plan on taking the advanced test to get into the Mercedes Elite program, so I can go and be a certified Mercedes mechanic,” he says.

To be even more marketable, experts say, students can pursue certifications after they enter the workforce -to help them get the most complex, highest-paying assignments.

Tips for Parents

Vocational programs remain popular with many students despite the lingering misperception that such programs are for under-achievers and students who don’t plan to go to college. Teenagers are discovering that completing a program in vocational education can provide them with the knowledge and skills relevant to today’s job market.

Though of particular interest to those students who do not plan on going to college, the U.S. Department of Education says that skills gained from vocational education programs are also of importance to:

■The large number of students who need or want to combine work with college attendance.
■Those students who are unsure of their future education plans.
■Those students who plan to earn a subbaccalaureate degree, such as an associate’s degree.
■Those students who plan to enter a technical field for which a “hands-on” or applied curriculum provides valuable groundwork for more abstract study in later years.

Today’s vocational educational classes are interwoven into mainstream curriculum. Many students, including college prep students, take at least some coursework in vocational education. In fact, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics 96% of high school graduates have taken at least one career and technical education course.

The U.S. Department of Education says that over the past 15 years, the focus of vocational education has shifted from preparing students for entry level jobs in occupations requiring less that a baccalaureate degree toward a broader preparation that develops the academic, vocational, and technical skills of students.

■National Center for Educational Statistics
■U.S. Department of Education

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