Career and technical education moves to forefront
|Chris Tonc kneels alongside the bike racks he built at Mont Harmon Junior High as a project. These racks will be used in a number of places including by Price City. The project is an example of the technical education opportunities available in Carbon School District.|
There was a time in the middle to later part of the 20th century that parents were disappointed when their children didn't go off to a four-year college. In the 1960s and 1970s it was particularly disconcerting for some when students in high school decided to take a non-academic track for their career, or as it was called then, the vocational track. During that time hundreds of thousands of students were pushed toward gaining academic degrees, while one or two year diplomas based on working in skills that used their hands were considered second rate. Some parents were even ashamed to admit their kids had gone to school to be mechanics, machinists, welders, beauticians, chefs, nurses aides or electronic repairmen.
But now the idea of gaining a vocational or technical education has actually taken precedence over academic degrees in some circles. Today it is seen as not only a great place to start a career that appears to get solider as time goes by, but also a place where students who graduate often get not only better jobs upon finishing school, but higher paying ones as well.
While actual vocational education began in the early 1900s it did not become a formalized type of instruction until 1917 when a federal law called the Smith Hughs Act passed Congress and a regular system of teaching boys to work in agricultural and industrial jobs began. At one time the vocational courses offered in schools had little to do with the academic side of education, but by the time the early 1990s rolled around that had changed. About that same time, Utah changed the named of that type of instruction to Applied Technology Education.
A recent report by the Utah State Office of Education points out that employers in the United States today spend more than $60 billion a year to train and educate their current workforce. That gap can be closed by good technical instruction.
But there are still a great many misconceptions that abound concerning not only technical education, but also academic degrees that are handed out in the United States.
First is that most high school seniors that expect to go on to college for four year degrees actually enroll and then graduate with bachelors degrees. At present only 34 percent of Utah's population that is 25 years old and older hold associate degrees and above. Many more, however, have attended some college by never graduated.
Some believe that in the future most jobs will require a four year degree to even get started. But in actuality, at present only a little over 20 percent of jobs in the state required a bachelors degree or above at entry level. Most jobs, however, do require some type of post secondary training.
Most people think that the best paying jobs in the state require at least a four year degree. However, the largest and fastest growing segment of workforce needs do not require a bachelors degree, but rather specific technical training, some of which can be obtained with one year of post secondary schooling. By 2010 over 300,000 new jobs will be created in Utah, many of them requiring individuals who have technical training.
Job growth in the state over the next few years will come in many areas where a technical education is superior to an academic degree. While public education tops the list as the sector that will require the most new employees, and those jobs usually require four year degrees, restaurant services, computers, business services and and special trades construction, all requiring Technical training, are in the top ten.
Salaries are also high among many technical professions, with information technology and engineering service personnel being paid the most. Jobs in database development can pay as much as $67,400 per year while building and transportation inspectors can make up to around $40,000. And with the growing need for health services as the population ages, salary ranges for technicians who work in those fields, such as in pharmacies and biological services can range between $25-30,000 per year to start.
The state board has set up a program which they hope will create a seamless education that allows students to head in many directions when they graduate, but also specifically trains them in the areas where they have interests and skills. The program is begins in elementary schools to explore kids interests and to give them some kind of chance to see what work is all about.
The program then progresses into middle schools and junior highs using technology exploration, worked based learning and an additional step of comprehensive guidance to send the student down the right path for them.
Finally in high school the program includes occupational skills training, competency testing, certain kinds of certification, along with work based learning and counseling that include an occupation plan tied to exploration of what careers are available in the areas of interest.
"All this is designed to help kids get an earlier start on what they want for a career and what their choices may be," says Judy Mainord, director of special programs at Carbon School District.
Along that line of thinking, Carbon District has been developing technical education pathways for years in conjunction with the College of Eastern Utah. Many students do concurrent enrollment between the college and Carbon High both in academics and in technical education. Some actually graduate from programs at the college at the same time they graduate from high school.
Options for students include building construction, diesel and automotive technology, cosmetology, welding and health occupations. The district has also begun a culinary arts program that will teach all aspects of the food preparation industry.
Stiff competition in technical education has led to competition between schools and districts as well. Most people are familiar with the VICA program that has run for many years where people in technical fields competed at the state level and then if they won went to the national and international levels to compete as well. VICA has now been changed to a program called SkillsUSA, and each year students compete at the highest levels in the state in many technical fields. In many ways the competition has become so fierce that it could be equated with high school athletics in the fervor students encounter during the contests.
With the culinary training that will come into place at Carbon High next year, the students in that program will also be involved in competitions. Last March for instance high schools from around the state competed in ProStart Culinary Competition where teams came to a location and prepared a three course gourmet meal. The team that wins this competition goes onto a national contest.
According to Mainord probably one of the most exciting parts of what the state has set up and what Carbon District is participating in is a program called College Tech Prep. That program is designed to give all students, including students who are traditional college attendees, a way to focus on their future by preparing each of them with technology skills that will fit in the competitive work environment. Across the state 109 high schools participate in the program in conjunction with 10 post secondary institutions. With this program high school programs are formally coordinated with technical learning centers in colleges so that students can go from high school to college without any duplication of course work.
The point of this program is to allow students to have work based experience that moves them along through their course of study quicker and at less cost, which is quickly becoming one of the most important factors in todays educational process. A recent study showed that an average college education today costs between $35-40,000. Based on inflation and escalating costs, by the year 2023, or the year that children born this year would begin college, that same education will cost well over $100,000.
Technical education has now come of age, with industry and business now, more than ever, requiring basic skills that can be dropped directly into their work processes and systems.
Editors note: This is the final installment in a series of five stories concerning testing, academics, goals and outcomes in Utah schools in general and in the Carbon School District in particular.