The New Vo-Tech is helping students prepare for skilled careers — and for college, writes Del Stover for American School.
Not long ago, a manufacturer asked for assistance from the Pickens County Career and Technology Center (South Carolina). A factory robot needed to be retooled for a new product, and the company’s technicians were too busy to do the work. Could the high school’s students take on the project?
. .. Soon, students were installing a new welding arm and reprogramming the robot, even though the company didn’t have a technician’s manual to help with the work.
“After we finished that, the company said they were going to put the robot on line at the plant, and they’d need maintenance,” (Principal Leonard) Williams says. “So they hired one of our kids for an apprenticeship … and hired another kid from our electronics program.”
Vo-tech — often called career and technical education (CTE) — works best when schools work closely with local employers.
In Pickens County, 1,100 students “study everything from auto repair and high-tech welding to pre-engineering and medical sciences.” Some work in school workshops or apprentice at local companies. Others earn college credits at a local technical school or work toward vocational certifications.
High school senior Toby Wofford took part in an apprenticeship program with a local manufacturer and has decided to stay on with the company after graduation. He is working part-time while seeking an associate’s degree at the firm’s expense.
Meanwhile, senior Conner Smith, who originally studied mechanical and architectural drafting at the technical center, says his experience sparked an interest in engineering that he’ll pursue in college.
In Europe, vocational education isn’t seen as a dead end, says Nancy Hoffman, author of Schooling in the Workplace. Vocational students can go on to technical colleges and universities. In the U.S., vocational education is seen as less rigorous, fit for low-performing students who aren’t going to college. There’s a stigma, says Hoffman.
“CTE prepares young people for high-demand jobs — in career areas where there are significant opportunities for middle-class wages. These jobs may require skills that may be slightly different than what’s offered in traditional academics, but there are rigorous levels of math and writing required. This is not a dumbed-down version of high school.”
Career-tech courses don’t hurt — or help — math achievement, concludes a new study. Federal legislation has attempted to integrate career and academic courses to prepare more students for STEM careers and college majors.