The mission of Communities In Schools is to surround students with a community of support, empowering them to stay in school and achieve in life. While we celebrate every high school graduation that our work makes possible, we don’t lose sight of the path that students can take once they graduate. Our site coordinators provide students with career counseling and opportunities to participate in job shadowing and career fairs. They also connect students with mentors. Site coordinators listen to students to learn their concerns and their dreams, and help them play to their strengths in deciding the path they choose to take.
One of the paths open to students is vocational training. Having a vocational career means students learn a specific set of hands-on skills, such as plumbing, construction or electric repair. Communities In Schools initiatives that help answer the question, ‘Is a trade for me?,’ range from high school shop classes that introduce students to manual craftsmanship and machine safety, to culinary courses that explore food preparation and nutrition, and horticulture classes that offer lessons in fruit, vegetable and plant cultivation. Such programs exist in elementary and middle schools as well.
And the benefits to students who learn how to “make” something include having a better understanding of math and science, learning the value of working on a project from start to finish, and being able to explore their strengths and passions.
There is also an economic benefit to vocational training. A study from the Manpower Group reported that the hardest jobs to fill in 2011 were those in skilled trades, and a 2011 Skills Gap Report by Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute stated that 83 percent of the companies surveyed reported a moderate or severe shortage of skilled production workers.
Per the report, “Shortages in skilled production jobs – machinists, operators, craft workers, distributors, technicians and more – are taking their toll on manufacturers’ ability to expand operations, drive innovation and improve productivity.”
Articles abound stating that in our current economy, job vacancies are largely unfilled because we don’t have skilled workers to fill them. And many more positions will open due to the retirement of our country’s older workers. As these articles point out, our economy could use an influx of trade workers – specialists who can both construct and repair. High school graduates, prepared for manufacturing careers, could help boost our economy down the road.
An added benefit to learning a trade is that the skill allows the individual the flexibility of working for a company or as a self-employed contractor. Introducing the entrepreneurial spirit to youth is also a way to fuel the small businesses that help drive our economy.
In addition, today’s vocational training is powered by technology, yet another useful skill. You’d be hard pressed in any manufacturing program or mechanics course to perform a job without the latest technical skills.
Making students aware of all the options available to them for their future education and career has been and will continue to be a consideration of site coordinators at Communities In Schools. A hammer and nail can’t fix our nation’s economic problems. But introducing the option to students to learn how to use those tools – as well as the latest technology – en route to becoming a skilled technician, could provide one solution.