Worth of vocational training is diminishing

Posted: Tuesday, October 03, 2000

The following editorial appeared in Friday's edition of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner:

There's less and less truth associated with the traditional notion that students struggling in academic classrooms can seek refuge, inspiration and, eventually, that shimmering road to success via the school wood shop, TV repair bench or some other vocational-training program.

Employers in today's technology dominated society have little interest, and increasingly few job opportunities, for applicants unequipped with basic English, math, science and other tools of knowledge acquired in academic classroom settings.

Entrance requirements for most local trade apprentice programs require high school diplomas, or a general equivalency diploma. That's the rock-bottom minimum threshold for consideration. Actual acceptance into training programs more often hinges on an individual's possession of additional academic qualifications.

Apprenticeships jointly sponsored by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and National Electrical Contractors Association are tied to entrance requirements for at least two years of high school algebra or a year of college-level math.

The U.S. Army is, at present, willing to accept recruits whose academic credentials are limited to a GED, but depending on the staffing needs of the service that window could slam shut tomorrow. "People with high school diplomas are preferred," one local Army recruiter said, "and they're going to get a lot more as far as incentives."

There was a time when an indifferent student might skate through school days polishing wood shop projects, customizing an engine or baking desserts. Students so-inclined would be lucky to even find, much less keep, a seat in the training programs turning out technicians prepared to master the computer diagnostic equipment, troubleshooting manuals, materials estimates, inventory procedures, spread sheet calculations or marketing techniques essential for tomorrow's working world.

"Our problem all along has been the people who think vocational training is a dumping ground for kids who can't cut the mustard in regular classes," observes John Knabe, apprenticeship coordinator for Plumbers and Steamfitters Local No. 375. "If kids don't have math and science, they're going to flunk out of our program."

Complaints raised of late about academic standards and subjects being part of the program envisioned or the proposed Hutchison Vo-Tech High School betray a lack of understanding concerning the skills needed to succeed today.

New high school exit exam requirements will apply to New Hutch students, as they will to all would-be Alaska high school graduates. Kids lacking the knowledge to pass those tests won't be toting diplomas to their first job interviews, but others filling out applications surely will.

It's unconscionable to suggest public schools ought to settle for issuing vocational tickets to nowhere in the form of non-diploma track instruction.

School bond Proposition No. 1. would finance the conversion of the district's poorly equipped "career center" into a modern high school vocational-training complex, incorporating related programs from both the local school district and the University of Alaska. The $23 million project, already backed by a $8 million university funding commitment, represents a thoughtful approach toward giving highly skilled, self-motivated, students a running start over their competition entering tomorrow's working world.



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