It’s Time to Build The Case for More Vo-Tech Classes

About Jake Miller

Mr. Jake Miller teaches middle school history near Harrisburg, PA. He is the 2016 National History Day Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year and a 2017 NEA Teacher of Excellence. His articles have appeared in The Washington Post, The Guardian, WeAreTeachers, and several other periodicals, but Miller has called TER home since 2012.

A recent PDK poll shows that 82% of Americans support job-skills classes, even if it’s at the expense of academic classes. Additionally, 86% believe schools should offer certificate / licensing programs that lead to jobs. But they’re forgetting one very big thing: this type of education already exists. It’s just that everybody forgets vocational-technical training.

And now, more than ever is time to build a case for vo-tech.

It’s no surprise that the job industry has drastically changed in the last 20 years. As manufacturing – and so many other jobs – become more and more automated and mechanized, so have jobs. The ability for high school graduates to walk with their high school diploma and live the American dream, even a small version of it – complete with a house, a car, a spouse, and a family – is, for many, the grasping of straws. It’s no stretch to say that a high school degree doesn’t mean much of anything to 21st-century employers.

It's no stretch to say that a high school degree doesn't mean much of anything to 21st-century employers. Click To Tweet

The alternative to this choice, and the self-proclaimed “only path” for an overwhelming majority of our students, is attending college. However, with costs of college ballooning and the financial support for lower-income students cut from federal and state budgets, it’s becoming increasingly evident that 70% of our high school graduates don’t belong in college. But students enter college because everybody expects them to. If you think you’re absent of this cultural expectation, watch yourself ask a soon-to-be high school graduate “where they’re going to school.” It just slips from your tongue so non-chalantly. And when 55% of students don’t graduate within 6 years of starting their college careers, we need to examine other options.

Enter vo-tech.

For many, vocational-technical training is the happy middle between the absent influence of a high school diploma and the academic / financial challenges of college. Students in vo-tech can get the hands-on type of curriculum so many seek. They can also make some serious bank.

While each vo-tech school varies in the offering of its programs, they seem to have plenty of choices for students to pick-up a valuable skill. My county’s program directory provides many of those essentials, considering:

  • Arts & Technology (advertising, graphic design, computer network)
  • Construction (carpentry, HVAC, electrical, etc)
  • Health Sciences (dental assistant, nursing)
  • Hospitality (cosmetology, culinary arts)
  • Human Services (criminal justice, early childhood)
  • Manufacturing (electronics, precision tech, welding)
  • Transportation (auto, diesel tech, logistics, etc)

According to Trade-Schools.com, many of these jobs are in high demand and pay much more than jobs acquired through 4-year degrees, including teachers.

Students can use their vo-tech training in 2 ways:

  1. They can get a quick jump start on a successful life. Two of my friends who don’t have 4-year degrees and who make probably 150% more than my college-educated wife and me are quite successful with their certificates and associates degrees from the police academy and nursing, respectively. They’re 5 years younger than use, have more in the bank, and have children older than we do. They also didn’t have any college debt.
  2. Others who want to go to college would be gainfully employed as they pursue their degree. It’s still a maxim to say that the biggest bucks can be made with a college degree. But, what if Jesse had a certificate in diesel welding and made $25 an hour while studying to be a business major? Certainly beats working (nee playing on their phone) at the campus bookstore.

So what’s the issue? Why don’t more people enroll in vo-tech? Consider three reasons:

First – Not all program offerings are equally valuable. My wife, who added a graphic arts certificate to her art degree, didn’t make much as a graphic artist. Similarly, many who enter early childhood and work at day cares will find similar struggles. Those who enter nursing, plumbing, diesel mechanics, and a few others, though, will be gainfully employed.

Second – That’s why we need more time for our school counselors to do some serious career advising of students instead trying to balance spinning plates. Counselors have increasingly taken on the role of personal psychologist, parent (explaining right’s and wrong’s to students), overseers of standardized tests, and do all this with the average ratio of 491 students to every one of them. Seriously.

Finally – It’s a cultural thing. We have to stop playing along with the cultural myth that “vo-tech is just for the dumb kids.” We’re doing a huge disservice to a multitude of students who would greatly benefit from specialized job skills, only to sell them up the river when they don’t cut it at college — or life in general.

So, the 8 in 10 Americans who already want more job training and meaning in children’s lives need not look much further down the road from their own high schools. If we’re going to build the case for a new type of job training from schools, we need to build the case for vo-tech.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

About the Author:

Mr. Jake Miller teaches middle school history near Harrisburg, PA. He is the 2016 National History Day Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year and a 2017 NEA Teacher of Excellence. His articles have appeared in The Washington Post, The Guardian, WeAreTeachers, and several other periodicals, but Miller has called TER home since 2012.

Leave A Comment