Career path right in front of youths

Greg Oliver - Contributing columnist

If you ask my adult children, they would testify that I’m not very handy at all. As a matter of fact, I have always hired someone else to do all home repairs that required more than a carpenter’s hammer. (By the way … when you become proficient with a hammer, everything begins to look like a nail).

I have grown to respect those who have the skills necessary to fix and build things. The workforce of skilled laborers has dwindled in size yet building and construction continues to happen in most areas of the country.

Why is it then, we cannot produce for the workplace students who are trained in skill vocational trades that are in such high demand? I would suggest that we need to educate the community, the parents, and the youth of today about the career opportunities that are available as a viable alternative or addition to post-secondary education.

Yes, I am suggesting that a pure college track is not for all young people.

Tech prep programs are essential for the success of the vocational learner.

When I graduated from college, I was seeking a school teaching position in the business content area. I never fashioned myself in a vocational environment. My only recollection of vocational training was associating sometimes in high school with the guys who took wood shop and messed around with carburetors and got their hands all greasy. Quite frankly it was totally “not cool “to be in those courses.

Now of course, I know better. You see, I did accept a position as a business education teacher right out of college at Laurel Oaks.

I noticed quickly that not all the teachers in the school had degrees from colleges like I did. Instead, they came from all different vocational backgrounds. The trade and industrial staff were made up of master tradesmen who wanted to share their expertise with young people who were not happy sitting through 7 or 8 periods per day of academic school work.

These were many skilled craftsmen!

The difference that can be made with a student who finally gets turned on to practical learning is nothing short of amazing. In my 30-plus years as a vocational teacher, adult education supervisor, and vocational director, I saw firsthand the impact that hands-on learning can make on a misdirected student.

When we as educators, at all levels, recognize that all kids should not be fed out of the same curriculum box, we will be well on our way to counseling the student as early as middle school, to explore the world of career technical education. Years ago we replaced the words “vocational education” with “Career Technical Education” (CTE) — Voc-Ed is now CTE.

The month of February is traditionally the month that we honor those who work in the Career Technical arena. The period of Feb. 1-29 is set apart as National Career Technical Education month. It’s a time that we shout the successes of those instructors/teachers and students who are often overlooked for their hard work, dedication, and commitment to producing the skilled laborers that we so desperately need.

I was so pleased to see that our own Laurel Oaks campus is undergoing some real great improvements and state of art building expansion. Great Oaks has always recognized the need to examine how we continue to deliver CTE education training to hungry learners.

Under Superintendent Harry Snyder’s leadership, this rural campus has become one of the best in our state, and in our country. Laurel Oaks has made significant contributions to thousands of students.

So, hat’s off to those who educate the young men and women of the high school age, in skilled career and technical education programs. We need your persistence, patience, and expertise if we are to train the next generation in such areas as carpentry, electricity, electronics, masonry, welding, automotive repair, air conditioning and heating, drafting, cosmetology, landscaping, computer repair, child care, marketing education, restaurant operations, business education and many more that make up the 16 career clusters and pathways within each.

The notion that career centers are for the “under-achievers” and “trouble-makers” should not still exist in today’s society, but unfortunately, it does. If we truly call ourselves educator’s, we MUST continue to direct the youth of today towards career and skill training. It’s right here in our back yard.

The four Great Oaks campuses (Laurels Oaks here in our county) should be considered as an extension of each of the feeder high schools that is serves. Applied and integrated academics go hand in hand with the skill training.

The partnership is strong and hopefully will continue to get stronger. We must continue to counsel, direct, and guide students towards hands-on skilled training.

Failure to recognize the need for skilled laborers is what the masonry instructor would refer to as “a couple of bubbles off plumb.”

Greg Oliver served as teacher and administrator on the Laurel Oaks campus from 1973-1985, principal at East Clinton High School 1985-1989, and still works in education as Specialist of Alliances and Partnerships with Pearson Education, with a remote office in Wilmington.

Greg Oliver

Contributing columnist