Education comes in many different forms. For some, a four-year university experience allows immersion in a world of academics, with the secondary benefit of career exploration, character development, and networking. Perhaps these students do not yet know which path they will pursue, and need time to “feel things out.”
Others, however, excel when given the opportunity to apprentice with someone in the plumbing, auto repair, cooking, HVAC, or other vocational field. Long considered the second-best option for the second-best kids, vocational training has often been treated as a consolation prize. However, vocational education is experiencing a revival as a new generation facing escalating college tuition and post-graduate unemployment is reconsidering the benefit of a solid career and a lifetime free of debt.
Struggling Students Want Vocational Education
In a poll of California 9th- and 10th-graders, it was found that six in ten students didn’t like school and weren’t motivated to succeed. However, more than 90 percent of those disaffected students said their motivation would rise if their school offered classes pertinent to their future careers. In a departure from stereotype, girls were more likely than boys to state that they would benefit from hands-on learning.
Although the state has been making a push toward a more rigorous academic curriculum, vocational training programs would not conflict with this effort. Rather, vocational education is increasingly being seen as blending academic rigor with real-world learning. If the implementation of a greater variety of hands-on classes inspires more students to stay and succeed in school, the effort will be more than worthwhile.
Post-Secondary Education: Not All or Nothing
While it’s laudable to try and make all students ready for a four-year degree, that’s not what everyone wants. What’s more, a four-year degree is simply not necessary for many careers. A career as an HVAC technician orphlebotomy technician, for example, offers opportunities in rapidly expanding fields with earnings potential that calls into question the value of a four-year degree. While a college degree does generally increase an individual’s potential for earnings, student debt can negatively impact an individual’s ability to take on other consumer debt (e.g. buying a home), placing a drag on the national economy.
Considering that the average college graduate (from the class of 2011) owes $26,600 in college loans, and that a college degree does not always translate into a livable-wage job, many people are beginning to recognize that college might not be the most worthwhile investment. With half of young college graduates either jobless or underemployed in positions that don’t fully use their knowledge and skills, the specialized skills provided by a vocational program can often deliver the required edge to obtain a career.
Not Enough Skilled Workers to Fill Jobs
Despite the problems of unemployment facing recent college graduates, things are looking up for skilled workers. Demand remains strong for skilled manufacturing workers, and employers are heavily recruiting foreign workers and military veterans to fill available positions. A 2012 CareerBuilder survey reported that 40 percent of employers complained they were unable to find sufficient skilled workers to fill vacant positions. For students who graduate from the programs that prepare them for these jobs, the employment future appears promising.
It is in the best interest of secondary schools to promote technical and work-oriented classes. While the goal may be obtaining a career, different students will reach that goal in different ways.
It is these hardworking students who, when encouraged and allowed to pursue their areas of interest, rise to the challenge to truly become productive members of society.