Being a blue-collar worker was once considered an acceptable profession in the United States. In the early part of the 20th century, “electricity and the internal combustion engine drove the rise of manufacturing and America’s shifted away from an agrarian economy” (Carnevale, Smith, and Strohl 2010). To fuel this job market, our education system focused its efforts on promoting a vocational/trade school education. These schools specialized in providing high school students with technical skills to work in the area of manufacturing, construction, mechanics, or installing and repairing.

Towards the latter part of the century, the nation was transformed from a manufacturing into a service-based economy. Many economists, at the time, forewarn the public that our educational system was not preparing all students for the technology age. They predicted that the United State would have a shortage in workers by 2018.  This resulted in school districts shifting its focus away from a vocational education to supporting a classical education program of study. Emphasis would be placed on academic content that aimed at preparing all kids to enter into a college program. By the beginning of the 21st-century, most vocational programs were eliminated from high schools.

Fourteen years into the 21st-century, the nation is still concerned with the same issue. Economists continue to forecast  that “by 2018, “approximately one-third of all available jobs will require individuals to have a bachelor’s degree or higher. Meanwhile, only 10 percent of jobs will be open to high school dropouts, while about 28 percent will be open to individuals with a high school diploma” (Amos, 2010).

So, What Happen

“A great number of [school systems] were unable to help young people match their educational preparation with their career ambitions(Carnevale, Smith, and Strohl, 2010). Students who selected a college track after high school lacked the adequate academic preparedness in a college setting. A number of these young people dropped out. Some could not afford the rising cost of a college  tuition and were unable to complete their degree program. While students who entered the workforce immediately after high school found it difficult to find a job. A majority of these students were unemployable because of their limited technical skills in a specific industry. This caused them to take on low-skilled jobs to support themselves and their families.

Much of this could have been avoided if vocational education was allowed to evolve. The curriculum should have been allowed to shift from manufacturing to computer science. This may have given the United States the needed technical workforce it requires to sustain the economy.

Possible Solutions

Education districts ought to consider integrating “vocational tracks” back into their programs of study. Vocational schools are now known as Career Technical Education (CTE) Academies. These types of schools increase exposure to career development and offer hands-on job experience in high school, while simultaneously instructing students in the core academics. Young people who attend these schools graduate with a high school diploma and a certificate within a trade (i.e., Certification in Nurse Assistance or  Culinary Arts).  This type of education allows young people with a chance to achieve a job after high school.

Another possibility is dual enrollment.  Students enrolled in secondary school may be dual enrolled at a local institution of higher learning, such as a community college or university. If students pass their college course, they receive credit that may be applied toward their high school diploma and/or toward a college degree or certificate. This will allow students to graduate with some higher education experience and a skill. Vocational/ CTE education is the key to producing a skilled workforce. We cannot let this type of education disappear from our schools again.



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