Technical education in high school is a proven precursor to later academic success. Almost 80% of high school students who concentrated on career and technical studies pursued some type of postsecondary education within two years of finishing high school. But long gone are the days of widespread shop class, or even "vocational training"; however, in a limited number of schools, it’s making a high-tech comeback.
The High-Tech Return of Shop Class
Whether it’s an entire school dedicated to teaching tech, an apprenticeship program, or a set of technical college prep courses to guide students to become engineers, schools are starting to re-embrace technical programs.
"Certain districts are looking at career and technical education as a way to reform school," said Stephen DeWitt, senior director of public policy for the Association for Career and Technical Education. "The focus on project-based learning, how to get students engaged more, is something that’s caught on."
Dale Dougherty, founder of MAKE Magazine, is part of a movement to revitalize old shop classes by putting "maker spaces" in high schools. Maker spaces – hands-on, high-tech spaces in which students can create, invent, and learn – have taken off in communities around the US and Canada for years, but they are just now making their way into schools. MAKE, armed with a grant from the Defense Advance Research Project Agency, has helped launch maker spaces in several Northern California schools this year, and has plans to open 1,000 more.
Many schools have received grants to fund new programs in advanced manufacturing, which includes education in welding, robotics, mechatronics engineering, and machining technologies. The Oak Ridge school system in Tennessee was granted $50,000 in July by the Carl Perkins Reserve for such a program. They also received a $10,000 grant to pay for students’ industry certifications in a number of areas, including Auto-CAD, and a third grant for student training and work-based learning opportunities.
High School Girls Try Advanced Manufacturing
Seven high school girls at North Iowa Area Community College (NIACC) received training in industrial systems technology, Auto-CAD, tool and die making, welding, and laser cutting as part of an advance manufacturing camp called “Minds On! Hands On!" hosted by the college with the goal of introducing young women to career and education opportunities in tech and manufacturing.
"We’re trying to get rid of that perception that these jobs aren’t for women," said Renee Anderson, the Project Manager of Workforce Initiatives. “They’re traditionally not steered at all in this direction so they don’t know about it."
Taking them through the process of designing and producing a picture frame, the young women were instructed in the use of the engineering program Auto-CAD. One student said, "I learned how to design things with Auto-CAD and before I didn’t like using computers but now I do."
Annette Greenwood, NIACC’s Career Connections Coordinator said that her goal of exposing the young women to these careers would be supplemented by follow-up throughout the school year, with the students being able to take certain courses from the college while they are still in high school. These fields enable students to graduate with very little student debt, an in-demand degree, and the potential for high wages with benefits.
Adult Education Is Also On the Rise
This rising interest in these jobs isn’t limited to high schools either; technical and career training isn’t just for teenagers. More and more adults of all ages are looking to community colleges, universities, and certification programs to acquire the skills needed for a career in tech or manufacturing. Online technology courses are becoming more and more common, and offer the flexibility of schedule that most working adults require.
George Brown College offers many such online technical programs, including automation technician, programmable logic controller technician (PLC), electronics technician, robotics technician, and electromechanical technician programs. Upon concluding each program, students receive a certificate of completion and the knowledge necessary to pursue a career in their chosen field.
Manufacturing and tech jobs are in high demand and provide a draw for students of all ages. Whether they are in the middle of high school, college, a career, or retirement, people are re-examining technical education as a means to break into an exciting and rewarding field.