By John Willis, MIAT College of Technology Houston President
Welders. Pipefitters. Aviation maintenance technicians. Elevator repair technicians. Electricians. Computer and information technology specialists. Heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and refrigeration (HVACR) technicians. Plumbers.
These are just some of many skilled trades that are required to support the growing needs of employers in the United States. These high demand, professional careers can be a viable option for many students graduating from high school and entering the workforce.
Vocational training and career and technical education providers such as MIAT College of Technology can and should be the first choice for men and women who want to begin working and earning an income in a chosen field sooner and with lower costs than those that are commonly associated with a four-year college or university program.
The reasons are many. For one, not every young adult in high school wants to spend four more years at a college or university and delay earning an income that allows him or her to live independently. In addition to financial concerns, many high school students prefer a “hands on” pedagogy even if they have the academic prowess, work ethic, and personality traits to pursue a career as an aeronautical engineer, chemist, lawyer, doctor or business executive. Those who go the vocational or technical training route versus a four-year college or university route want to be “work place” ready as soon as possible and are known to have secured part-time work or apprenticeships while they are attending vo-tech classes on campus, online or both.
Additionally, many industries are suffering from the “aging out” of skilled workers and are becoming more actively engaged with career colleges such as ours in curricula development, guest lecturing alongside our instructors, donating equipment and sponsoring our classrooms. Employers value the role of career colleges and want to play a significant role in delivering the skilled workers that will enable them to run a profitable enterprise. It is critical to maintain a pipeline of well-trained skilled workers to continue to drive a prosperous economy in the 21st century.
But, the challenge is overcoming the stigma that career education and the skilled trades have in secondary education. Many High School counselors are quick to see this path as a “plan B” to a more traditional academic route. But what occurs is the proverbial “square peg in a round hole”. Students often choose the path their teachers, counselors and parents prefer. What occurs often is a waste of resources and time – time that could have been better used equipping them with a skilled trade that can translate into immediate and long-term employment.
A quick online search will produce numerous articles addressing the need for removing the stigma in the United States regarding career and technical education and the perception that those in the “skilled trades” are “blue collar” workers. Here is an excerpt from an interesting and thought-provoking article by Michael Jasper, “Accepting Alternatives: Career and Technical Education Should Be Embraced,” which was posted in The Harvard Political Review in October 2016:
In 2012, San Diego Unified School District officials made a minor addition to the high school graduation requirements: two to four courses in CTE—Career and Technical Education, the 21st century rebranding of “Vocational Education.” In response, 100 parents marched in protest and an online petition against the move totaled over 1,300 hundred angry signatures. Within a month, the school officials had removed the requirements.
To many in the United States, vocational education is a scarlet letter. However, this stigma is not exclusive to affluent communities like those that protested in San Diego. It pervades all levels of American society, including the government. It’s no surprise that in 2006, when the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act was up for renewal, it was quietly renamed the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act.
Since the 1940s, the ultimate objective of the U.S. education system has been increasing college enrollment. A diploma from a university was and still is assumed to be a ticket to the middle class. By extension, the goal of the government has been a bachelor’s degree for almost everyone. The pathway seems clear: conventional high school will lead to conventional colleges, which will lead to success. Any deviation from that path can only result in hardship.
This leaves Career and Technical Education in a tough spot. Only 15 percent of CTE graduates matriculate to a four-year college; 60 percent do, however, enroll in technical colleges. Despite deviating from the standard path though, CTE graduates beat out their high school peers after graduation, earning 16 percent more each year.
Students often leave CTE programs with certifications that allow them to immediately enter the workforce. Surprisingly, some see this as CTE’s greatest failing. Yes, welders might make up to $140,000 dollars a year, but how can the government support “condemning” students to blue-collar labor? The reasoning of many against CTE programs seems misguided at best.
For a government obsessed with higher education, CTE just doesn’t seem good enough. Despite its positive results, funding shrank by 20 percent over the past decade, even as demand from students and parents has increased. There are 4,600 students on waiting lists for vocational schools in Massachusetts alone. In 2014, Philadelphia received 11,000 applications for CTE programs; it only had capacity for 2,500 students. But despite this increased interest, CTE was defunded and downplayed once more.
When asked what concrete skills students leave a four-year education with, college and university presidents often point to critical thinking and writing skills. However, for many students, four-year colleges don’t provide those skills anyway. In fact, sociologist Richard Arum finds that after four years of college, 36 percent of college students had no significant improvement in critical thinking or writing.
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It is critical that the education community recognize that all education serves a purpose and can be equally valued. The goal of secondary and post-secondary institutions should be to provide pathways for students to maximize their skills, talents and passion into a meaningful and rewarding career. Skilled trades are the pathway for many students and the time is now for National, State and Local leaders to embrace career and technical education and provide resources that support its continued advancement.
Campus Tours and Consultations Welcome
MIAT College of Technology campuses in Canton near Detroit and in Houston welcome calls, emails and campus tours for prospective students, parents, veterans, high school counselors, businesses, and professional associations. Our admissions and career services advisors are available for complimentary consultations with prospective students to help them determine if our programs are a match for them.
Please visit www.miat.edu to schedule a tour or an appointment with one of our advisors. Thank you for your interest in MIAT College of Technology and for your respect for skilled workers.