In Professor Mike Rose’s article in The American Scholar, “Making Sparks Fly: How Occupational Education Can Lead to a Love of Learning for Its Own Sake,” he makes the point that “habits of mind, reflection and thoughtfulness, exploration and experimentation can be sparked both in classrooms and in the workshop, reading a book and learning a trade.” When students attend technical school, they learn concrete skills to take to a good paying job and they get the benefit – and the challenge – of formal education beyond high school.
As an adjunct professor at Aiken Technical College and a 20-year veteran of the construction industry, I see the value first hand of vocational education – or “Career and Technical Education” (CTE) as it’s called today.
How could a vocational program benefit you?
It Will Get You a Job
It’s hard to find a job. The whole job-search process has become overwhelming as job-seekers access career databases or company career websites, enter extensive and repetitive information about themselves, upload documents, undergo background or credit checks, attend interviews that they seem to “ace” only to never hear from the company again...and then have to start the process all over again. Applying for scarce jobs in low-hiring fields makes it even harder. The good news is that the blue collar job market is thriving. The Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE) offers these stats: “middle-skill jobs, jobs that require education and training beyond high school but less than a bachelor’s degree, are a significant part of the economy. Of the 55 million job openings created by 2020, 30 percent will require some college or a two year associate degree.” ACTE goes on to report that employers are looking to hire because “the skilled trades are the hardest jobs to fill in the United States, with recent data citing 1,019,000 jobs open in the trade, transportation and utilities sector and 315,000 jobs open in manufacturing.” In addition to being plentiful, these blue collar jobs pay well. Given that not all of these blue collar jobs even require CTE degrees but will train you on the job while you are being paid makes this an even more compelling potential career path.
It Will Get You an Interesting Job
What IS a blue collar job? Blue collar today means people who do more physical work than desk work at jobs that don’t require a four-year college degree. I’m talking about skilled, trained workers who perform jobs that require the use of their bodies and their physical energy in addition to their brains. That job set includes trades people (carpenters, ironworkers, cement masons, pipefitters, operators, laborers, etc.); transportation workers (truck drivers, public transportation workers); automotive technicians; radiological and other technicians; workers in the oil and gas industry; healthcare technicians; police and safety workers; enlisted military personnel; and others. These jobs are interesting jobs that make a significant, daily difference in the lives of others. When you are part of building a three million gallon concrete tank to safely hold radioactive waste; when you perform a duplex ultrasound on a patient’s legs to check for thrombosis; when you repair an elevator people are stuck in, you become someone who makes a difference in our society. In many blue collar jobs, your days and weeks are varied as you move from task to task and project to project. You escape the monotony that accompanies many office jobs at a rate of pay that often dwarfs them (a social worker makes about $43,000 per year whereas an ironworker makes about $72,000). Certainly no job is consistently perfect and wonderful, but blue collar jobs offer the potential for a lucrative, stimulating, and varied career.
It Will Provide a Great Learning Experience
Many of my students at Aiken Tech are first-generation college students. Some are older students who got fed up with minimum wage retail jobs and decided to train for a better-paying career. Whenever you have the chance to challenge yourself in an academic setting, you gain something tangible – a degree or certificate – while also attaining the less measurable sense of satisfaction from mastering hard new information. In his article, Rose concludes with the idea that CTE programs “provide a meaningful context for learning and a home base, a small community with a common goal. For many participants, school has not offered this kind of significance, and the results can extend beyond economic benefits.” Let’s face it – “economic benefits” are crucial because we need to be able to support ourselves and our families. However, if on the way we can enjoy the satisfaction that comes from studying hard, learning something new, and seeing the “A” on the returned test paper, we’ve gained both the dollar reward and a less-definable but still very valuable intellectual prize.