Diesel repair, fiber-optic cable installment and wall finishing - not your usual course work for a middle school student in Juneau. On Friday, however, the youths learned a little about vocational technology.
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The University of Alaska Southeast's Technology Education Center downtown was the site of the Construction Apprenticeship Fair. Unlike normal career fairs, this one gave the students in attendance opportunities to get some hands-on practice in given fields.
Ed Flanagan, of the Alaska Works partnership, said the fair was the next logical step in local efforts to expose students to career options that don't necessarily involve a traditional four-year university.
Proponents see vocational education as a way to lower the dropout rate by making high school education more relevant to students.
About 300 middle school students and 400 high school students attended the fair, Flanagan said.
"The thing that was unique was the eighth-graders being there," he said. "By eighth grade, kids are starting to rule out career choices."
Mary Rodman-Lopez, training supervisor at the Juneau Job Center, said that more than 80 percent of high-paying jobs in Alaska don't require a college education. Local union officials predict continued growth in these trades.
Standing in front of two huge pieces of a framed dry-wall display, students took turns laying spackle.
"It was fun and very enjoyable," said Dustin Fisher, a 14-year-old Floyd Dryden Middle School eighth-grader.
"It's more work than I thought it was," said Emily Sharp, 13, also at Floyd Dryden.
Mike Bell, assistant professor of diesel technology at UAS, said the fair was about exposing the youths to a lot of things they may have never seen before, like tools and gadgets, and how an engine as big as an eighth-grader works.
"Those kids are fun," he said. "I'm trying to teach them opportunities."
Chris Gregg, a drywall finisher with the Painters and Allied Trades Union Local 1140, said he started setting up drywall for two reasons. One, he likes working with his hands. Two, "I went to college, and it wasn't for me."
Finishers make $23.93 an hour after their apprenticeship. Additionally, apprentices make wages during their training.
Looking at all the students gathered in front of one display, Juneau-Douglas High School shop teacher Craig Mapes commented, "We're going to have so many students signing up for classes now."
Spackling a wall, Floyd Dryden Middle School eighth-grader Edward Hurtte put it a different way.
"I could do this all day," he said.
Will Morris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org