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Voc ed isn’t just for troubled kids anymore

October 11, 2017

Article courtesy of MIRS News

She’s admittedly been out of school for some years, but what Rep. Kathy Crawford (R-Novi) is seeing in her Oakland County schools isn’t all that different from what was taking place decades before. 

Students who can’t sit still in class or have problems with the traditional reading-writing-and-arithmetic regiment are banished to vocational education, where they learn printing or shop or landscaping or some other skill that could land them a job that doesn’t demand a high degree of education. 

Where Crawford comes from, the options haven’t changed much. You could be a medical assistant, a restaurant worker or work in a greenhouse. 

The growing reality that vocational education can steer students into high-demand technology and computer fields is slowly catching on. 

“Our vocational education system is not where it should be,” Crawford said. “We’re still seeing how the problem children are going to voc ed. There has to be some type of education or information to the teachers so they can change that thought process.” 

This perception of vocational education is not lost on Superintendent Brian Whiston and Michigan Department of Talent and Economic Development (TED) Director Roger Curtis, both of whom are determined to change it. 

Speaking to a House committee Wednesday morning in which the two were detailing their 17 recommendations on ways the state can build its talent pool, Crawford mentioned reversing the stigma that’s associated with vocational education as a challenge. 

Whiston and Curtis didn’t run from the suggestion. Curtis’ spokesperson, Dave Murray, told MIRS that students and the people who influence them have “outdated perceptions of the professional trades” and that is a “significant problem.” 

“These are not the dirty jobs of decades ago,” Murray said. “In many cases, high-tech, high-skill jobs that pay well are in great demand.” 

Sharing what they are calling the “Professional Trades” story is one of the new passions of Whiston and Curtis as they travel across the state to explain as part of the “Going PRO campaign.” 

The message is being shared in schools and on billboards across the state. Career explorer classes can start as soon as middle school. To feed the demand, schools need more career counselors to assist in getting kids in these fields, Murray said. 

Whiston and Curtis told the House Workforce & Talent Development Committee that all too often school counselors must devote their time to children with significant emotional or psychological problems, leaving career guidance suggestions to chance. 

“We are working to encourage teacher externships — where they spend time with a business to learn about it — to count toward professional development requirements so they have more updated visions and can share that with students,” Murray said. 

The new Career Pathways Alliance builds on this new way of thinking. Students are steered to vocational education so they can be successful without necessarily following the traditional school path, said Whiston spokesperson Martin Ackley. 

“Any perceived stigma associated with vocational education is outdated thinking based upon an old mindset that these jobs are unskilled labor,” Ackley said. “Careers in the professional trades today demand highly technical skills, problem-solving and teamwork that incorporate the math, science and general knowledge required of all graduates.”

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