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Let’s Leverage Votech High Schools

Nov. 27, 2018
Votech high schools of today offer many more opportunities and even higher graduation rates compared with vocational schools of decades past.

Okay. We know it. It’s been pounded into our heads. We have a massive skilled labor shortage. But here’s a solution that can actually work: vocational and technical high schools.

I just recently heard about these “votech high schools” and decided to do a little research of my own. I was surprised to learn that there are several just in my state of Minnesota alone. These are four-year accredited high schools where students can get both their general high school education along with hands-on training in various trades, including plumbing, electrical, HVAC, carpentry, woodworking, welding and automotive.

While once considered a “dumping ground” for underachievers, votech high schools of today offer many more opportunities and even higher graduation rates compared with vocational schools of decades past. In fact, many schools across the U.S. now have waiting lists, because the interest has become so great. With the new opportunities in these advanced votech high schools, these kids can enter the job market immediately after graduation, trained and ready for a career in the trades right away.

The votech high school movement

Thanks to the reauthorization of the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Improvement Act on July 28, 2018 (originally established in 2006), states around the country are continuing to receive the resources and funding that are vitally necessary for these votech high schools to succeed and thrive.

Many of these schools not only offer the hands-on, work-based experience so desperately needed in the trade fields, but they also provide important skills training for employability — something most traditional high schools don’t offer. Plus, students in these votech high schools are motivated to learn, because they’re in their element among their peers — other, like-minded students.

Case in point: The David H. Ponitz Career Technology Center in Dayton, Ohio, offers 14 different career pathways in which students can earn industry certification to jump into the job market immediately. Getting hands-on skills aren’t all the kids gain. According to Principal Ray Caruthers, in 2013, at least three-quarters of the school’s 11th-grade students scored higher than the district average in reading, writing, mathematics and social studies on the state graduation test.

So it seems apparent that when kids are immersed in an environment where they feel they belong and are learning something valuable to them, they’re motivated to learn in other areas as well. This is critical because education trends are no longer stopping with a high school diploma.

By getting into votech high schools now, you can get your pick of the crop before these students even hit the job market.

Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce estimates that by 2020, nearly two-thirds of all jobs will require some sort of postsecondary education or training beyond a high school diploma. So, the reality is, a high school diploma will soon become just a basis for further education in any field of work.

Increasing awareness and combatting the stigma

According to all the polls, there is almost zero awareness among high school students (much less middle school students) that the trades are even an option after graduation. It’s literally not on their radar screens.

Meanwhile, when there is awareness, the mindset isn’t good. Most students have the (mistaken) opinion that it’s not a respectable career opportunity. Ouch. To say the trades have an image problem is an understatement.

Civic leaders and educational experts agree that we’ve done a disservice to our younger generation suggesting there’s only one path to success, which is getting a four-year college degree. We need to change society’s mindset that the trades are, in fact, a very lucrative career option that parents should encourage and kids should pursue if it is in their field of interest.

So, how do we change that mindset? Let’s start with the all-mighty dollar. Starting pay for entry-level trade jobs can be upwards of $30 per hour for most of the major metropolitan areas. And, that number is expected to increase as skilled labor becomes scarcer.

Plus, jobs in the trades are available almost anywhere. For those who like to travel or want to start fresh in a new city, skilled labor is needed everywhere across the country. Best of all, training can often be paid for by labor unions or apprenticeship programs, and it can very quickly lead to self-employment if an individual is interested in being their own boss.

Get ‘em early!

I know I’m preaching to the choir here about why the younger generation should look to the trades for career opportunities. But I’m also pointing to the industry to get involved with these schools.

By getting into votech high schools now, you can get your pick of the crop before these students even hit the job market. They are already interested in the trades, are learning the necessary skills needed to be valuable employee, and have a desire to make it their career (think: loyalty).

So how do you get started? A quick internet search will offer up the schools in your area. Seek them out and see what they can offer companies looking to hire their graduates. Provide students with apprenticeships at your company, or offer to have students come in to “job-shadow” your best employees. You can also start a mentoring program where inquisitive students are paired up with industry veterans. There are so many ways to “get ‘em early” and mold them to fit your company and culture.

I’d be interested to hear how some of you in the industry are finding success with talent acquisition. Feel free to reach out to me at [email protected]. Until then, good luck on your hunt for the elusive skilled labor. Happy heating!

Steve Swanson is the national trainer at Uponor Academy. He actively welcomes reader comments and can be reached at [email protected].

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