Is it time for career and technical education classes to be considered core courses? A growing number of experts are saying yes.
A couple of decades ago, school counselors began shying away from suggesting career and technical education classes to all students who showed even a hint of college potential.
Never mind the state-of-the art welding equipment, culinary tools, graphic design computers and model auto shops, emergency rooms and radio stations just waiting for high school students to show up and learn marketable skills.
But now there are not enough welders, carpenters, machinists and other skilled workers to fill high-paying open jobs in Arizona – and across the nation. And there are thousands if not millions of college grads who are frustrated that their business or communications degrees have not helped them land the jobs that they dreamed of.
Doug Pruitt, board chairman of the Sundt Companies, Inc., was recently named the 2016 Hero of Education by the Maricopa Community Colleges Foundation.
In his speech, the chair of the Tempe-based construction company, praised high school and community college level CTE classes for creating solid workforce members.
Skilled technical workers are the foundation of Arizona’s economy and the base of the state’s middle class, he said.
Data from the Arizona Department and the national Thomas Fordham Institute show that students who take career-education classes while in high school are more likely to graduate and attend post-secondary school.
I recently chatted with Dante Fierros, president-owner of Nichols Precision, a Tempe company that designs and creates machine parts for aerospace, defense, medical and other high tech equipment.
He would love right now to hire a couple of high school graduates who took CTE precision machining classes and pay them $15 an hour while they train for more technically advanced jobs. But finding qualified graduates is a challenge, he said.
Attending college while working could be part of the apprentice’s plan, said Fierros, who serves in leadership roles in a number of employment and manufacturing advisory groups including the National Association of Manufacturers, the Governor’s Workforce Arizona Council and the Arizona Manufacturing Partnership.
Arizona Department of Education data shows that 98 percent of high school students in career and technical education programs graduate, compared with an overall state graduation rate of 76 percent.
Typically, CTE students attend their normal high schools half of the day and then spend the other half at joint technical education district schools where they learn job skills that will help them land positions ranging from chefs to veterinary technicians.
The Fordham study, released last month, found that CTE students student were not only more likely to graduate but to also enroll in at least a two-year college, be employed and earn higher wages.
A great example is Carter Hill, who enrolled in Arizona State University’s mechanical engineering program after studying precision machining and earning a couple of professional certificates in the field at the East Valley Institute of Technology. He also was an A student at Mountain Pointe High School in Ahwatukee.
Since graduating he has had a number of machining and engineering internships.
“There is still a misconception that EVIT is for kids who aren’t going anywhere in life,” Hill told me a couple years ago when I interviewed him for an article about college-bound CTE students. “Most people here have a really clear idea of what they are doing.”