Story and Image provided by The Lane Report
Much attention was focused during the last presidential election cycle as to whether the federal government should subsidize college tuition as a way to help millennials navigate the choppy post-recession job market.
Public and private leaders continue to debate whether this would really help high-school graduates adapt to the uncertain economy they – and their baby boomer counterparts – are now facing, in which there seems to be a lack of adequately trained workers in both blue- and white-collar professions. Skills scarcities seems driven by not only by the advance of automation but the rise of big data, developments that together have left workers at both ends of the age and skill spectrum underemployed.
Within the discussion there is a re-examination of an often overlooked option: “trade school” and careers it prepares students for, occupations once fed by high-school industrial arts and vocational school programs and two-year technical schools.
However, if the term “industrial arts” calls to mind quaint memories of metal shop, woodworking and other hands-on training, or the “vocational schools” in which a slice of students a generation ago participated, Tim Lawrence, executive director of SkillsUSA, begs to differ.
Students and teachers in 1965 founded Vocational Industrial Clubs of America, known for years as VICA. After participating for years in the International Youth Skills Olympics, VICA founded the U.S. Skills Olympics in 1994, then in 1999 adopted the name SkillsUSA.
“I encourage anybody who hasn’t been in to see these programs in a few years to go in and take a look,” Lawrence said. “There are so many options now that are offered, students can choose any career pathway and get a head start on life and a good career.”
His confidence is well-founded. Today’s student in industrial arts or technical education is as likely to be studying the basics of robotic engineering and the programming needed to operate one as they are pipefitting, automotive repair or cabinetry fabrication.
SkillsUSA has brought technical skills education, once almost an afterthought for college-bound students sweating over their SAT scores, to the forefront of the debate over just how much the federal government should provide to prepare students for the world of work once they graduate high school.
“It’s really transformed itself over the years to be an organization that focuses on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education,” Josh Benton, executive director of workforce development at the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development, explained regarding SkillsUSA. “While you have everything from traditional skilled trades represented, you also see an emphasis on healthcare, IT and manufacturing. It (covers) a diverse set of skills.”