Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Why Career and Technical Education Matters Even More Today

Recently I had the opportunity to provide a welcome for a group of counselors and high school teachers who attended a Career and Technical Education Conference at DACC.  The purpose of the conference was to provide attendees with a sense of what is available in career and technical training and how that training correlates with the job opportunities within the State.  Here is a portion of what I shared. 

Many of you may not know that I began my career as a middle and high school social studies teacher.  During my five years in the public education classroom I had many opportunities to talk to my students about attending college.  During all of those conversations I encouraged them to attend four-year colleges or universities.  Of course, I often "plugged" my Alma matter.  I suspect this behavior has not changed much since I left public education to teach in higher education in 1989. 

 Today there still appears to be a strong emphasis on preparing to attend a four-year college or university.  I'm not here to say that is good or bad.  However, what I want to do in the few minutes I have with you is to encourage you to add another consideration to your conversations about college with your students.  I want you to consider adding a conversation about the value of two year associate degrees and certificates so that your students can consider all options open to them. 

Why do I think this option is important for you as high school counselors and teachers to consider? Let me illustrate:

Many of us were educated around the same era.  Many of us were encourage to attend a four-year college or university by our family, counselors, teachers and other important adults in our life; all of whom believed we would have a better life than they did if we attended college.  Many of us in this room earned four-year degrees and graduate degrees.  We hold good jobs and "we made it".  So it makes sense for us to share with our students the advice we received - after all it worked. 

However, the new economy of the post 2007-2010 recession is different that the economy you and I prepared to enter.  Consequently as you work with middle and high schoolers you need to help them realize their future will be much different than your past.  For example, consider the top five growing jobs in New Mexico.  They are:
1. Nursing including LPNs and Nurse Assistants
2 Radiological Technicians
3 Dental Hygienists
4. Building Construction Managers
5. Residential Advisers

 All of those jobs require either an associate degree or a certificate.  All of those jobs pay a living wage. 

Did you know that last month in our county that there were openings for over 80 truck drivers?  Did you know that a truck driver can start at Walmart making $80,000 a year? You may or may not be aware that the Santa Teresa area and port of entry has become a large and growing logistics hub.  The Boarder Industrial Alliance reports to me that they need workers in the following areas: 

1. Manufacturing workers & technicians
2. Truck Drivers
3. Welders
4. Managers and Supervisors

All of those jobs require either an associate degree or a certificate.  All of those jobs pay a living wage. 

White Sands Missal Range is a large employers in our area.  They reported to me that they need civilian employees in the following areas: 

1. Electricians
2. Robotics technicians
3. Aerospace technicians

All of those jobs require either an associate degree or a certificate.  All of those jobs pay a living wage. 

However - these jobs may not be the top five jobs five years from now. After all, how many of us had the option to prepare to by a data base programmer, or a Cisco network technician?  I believe in our new economy that many of the workers will train for many different jobs in several different sectors.  I have been fortunate to spend my entire career, just over 30 years, in one sector.  My father spent 36 years at one company.  I believe those days are over. 

Consequently we need to guide our middle and high schoolers toward the idea that they need to consider the impact of their choices today on their future opportunities. This is no easy task for adolescents whose social, emotions and moral development is about there moment not the long term. This is no easy task for us who may only know one sector and one way of life. 

As mentors of youth it is imperative that we be well versed about the relationship between education and ones economic reality.  We need to help our youth develop skills that are transferable to many different jobs and careers.  We may need to help our youth understand that they may return to college or the community college many times throughout their career for additional training.  After all, we have several students who attend DACC who have already earned a four-year degree or even a masters degree, but are now studying in a career or technical program. 

 I suggest that as mentors and advisers of students we need the following knowledge, skills, and dispositions to be successful:

Successfully guiding the student entrusted to us will require of us a deeper understanding of the fast changing business and industrial climate.
Successfully guiding the students entrusted to us will require of us a greater understanding of the educational programs available in our community.
Successfully guiding the students entrusted to us will require of us a skill set to help our youth make educational choices that creates for them opportunities rather than a fixed career or a dead end.