Vocational education programs help close skills gap

By STEPHEN INGBER

Capital News Service

LANSING – At the Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District, choosing a career education program is almost like choosing a college major, school officials say.

“Students are learning how to do something,” said Patrick Lamb, principal of the district’s tech center. “They are taking their education and tying it to a skill of relevance.”

It’s an example of a statewide push to develop career and technical education programs to meet the need of skilled labor openings.

“We hope to have more vocational classes for our students,” said Tim Buckingham, a mentor at Big Rapids Virtual School, an alternative education program for the district.  Buckingham provides guidance to students who are seeking alternative education options.

Many schools around the state offer traditional computer and woodworking classes, but some are allowing their students to get hands-on career experience while they complete their high school diploma.

The Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District has implemented a Career Tech Center that provides career and technical education to more than 1,100 students.

The school offers 22 programs. Electrical and building trades students take advanced math classes, skills necessary for those professions. For example, they use the advanced calculus classes for carpentry students.

Other students study culinary arts, welding and graphic arts.

The National Association of State Directors of Career Technical Education Consortium assists states like Michigan with setting up secondary technical and vocational training.

Schools that have partnered with the group have a 96 percent graduation rate, the consortium reports.

The Office of Career and Technical Education in the Department of Education created career clusters that were being implemented across the state. These clusters, which are combinations of related classes, allow students to choose a concentration.

The clusters are being evaluated for their success, and the 2012 findings show most clusters will continue.

More than 25,000 Michigan students are enrolled in career and technical education classes, according to the Department of Education.

There has been concern among employers about a lack of skilled trade workers, according to a recent survey of employees from the Manpower Group, a human resources consulting firm.

Skilled workers are those most in demand. However that need is not being met because of the lack of training.

Every year the state hosts a career education conference promoting technical and skilled education around the state.

Students from all around the state have access to career centers, said department officials.

The Ingham County Career Center in Mason provides one of the best histo-technology programs in the state, said Norma Tims of the department. Many of its students go on to community colleges or the University of Michigan for further education.

All career and technical education programs throughout the state have an industry advisory committee of post-secondary education professionals and local employers who help shape the curriculum to meet local staffing demands.

“The tasks in business and industry are more defined and they demand highly skilled workers. The programs around the state are meeting those needs,” said Joann Mohoney, a supervisor in the Office of Career and Technical Education.

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