“I am thinking of starting my own Vocational School,” said the CEO of a local manufacturing company.
His frustration echoes other business leaders at a recent roundtable discussion. There is a lack of well-trained people in the trades, and it is growing.
“Why aren’t we talking to our legislators about the lack of funding for [Career Technical Education] programs in schools?” said another panelist.
More CEOs and business owners need to raise their voices: There is a looming expiration of funding for Career Technical Education (CTE).
In the 1960s, these well-funded vocational training programs prepared a generation for jobs in electronics, welding and construction. This expanded in the 1980s to fashion designers, medical assistants and law enforcement. Today, CTE programs prepare our engineers, dentists, coders, filmmakers, electricians, physical therapists, firefighters, veterinarians, automotive technicians and hundreds of other occupations.
The U.S. Department of Education counts more than 1.6 million CTE students in California — 772,350 high school and 892,396 college CTE students.
Nationwide, there is a skills gap to fill 5.7 million job openings. Television host Mike Rowe, known for Discovery Channel’s Dirty Jobs, has voiced his concerns to Congress since 2001.
“The skills gap proves that opportunity alone isn’t enough to get people un-unemployed, and neither is training,” he said in a Fox News interview. He added, “if you don’t have an underlying appreciation for the work, if you’re not talking about jobs that people affirmatively aspire to; you’re going to be pushing the boulder up the hill.”
For almost 40 years, we told an entire generation that their best hope for success was a four-year degree. In Mike Rowe’s words, “this made the most expensive path ‘the best path’ for the most people.”
This powerful message marginalized jobs in the trades. Government funds shifted to what was considered important. Since 2008, California spends the bare minimum on CTE programs.
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In 2015, California began awarding unsustainable CTE grants. Schools started new courses and enhanced existing programs. But once courses are no longer new, how do schools sustain them?
This Band-Aid fails to heal the real problem: ongoing funding for CTE programs. State grant funding concludes on June 30, 2018. The funding of $200 million represents only 0.26 percent of the $74.5 billion education budget. We need a dramatic increase for CTE programs to survive and benefit employers.
As a Career Technical Educator for 25 years and superintendent of one of the largest CTE Centers in California, I take this issue personally.
I witness our CTE students attend local community colleges and reducing high school dropout rates for our local districts. Of 1,278 junior and senior high school CTE students last year, 36 percent entered a two or four–year college, 12 percent work in jobs related to their training, 356 completed internships, and 408 received job certifications with us.
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I applaud local companies Cupertino Electric and Therma for providing internships. I thank Kaiser Permanente and Palo Alto Medical Foundation for hiring our students, along with Subaru and General Motors for donating cars and engines. These businesses support students with cutting-edge resources and opportunities.
For some students, CTE is the only program they look forward to when they go to school. For others, it offers their American dream of employment in a trade they love. The need for CTE is not going away.
Alyssa Lynch is superintendent of the Metropolitan Education District, which operates Silicon Valley Career Technical Education and Silicon Valley Adult Education. The high school will celebrate its Centennial on Oct 20. She wrote this for The Mercury News.