Great op-ed in last Sunday’s Sacramento Bee by Jack M. Stewart, president of the California Manufacturers & Technology Association. Citing California’s 30 percent high-school dropout rate, Jack contends the state should offer more opportunities for technical education, reflecting the needs of the workforce and the interests of students.
We have lost touch with the purpose of public education to prepare our children for meaningful careers. Biases against career technical education among academia coupled with a growing pressure to teach to standardized tests are forcing schools to prepare students for a future they will never have, rather than delivering graduates armed with the real-world skills to take 21st century jobs.
The proof is in the numbers:
In 2005, 40,000 fewer students enrolled in courses that provided skills in robotics, agriculture, automotive technology, business, construction, pre-engineering and manufacturing than in the previous year. Today, California has the lowest percentage of students enrolled in career and technical education courses in our state’s history, according to the state Department of Education.
We’ve discussed this skills gap problem in some depth on shopfloor.org, of course. Attracting capable employees is one of the most frustrating yet critical challenges manufacturers encounter. And students and potential employees are being ill-served.
So the nice thing about Jack’s column is that he points to positive steps California can take, such as the promoting the personalized, technical education programs embraced by Napa’s New Technology High School and Freestyle High School in Mountain View.
“In the wake of regional (military) base closures and our growing economy, the business community came to the school board and pressed for the creation of a new type of learning,” says Susan Schilling of New Technology Foundation. “The result was the creation of our innovative high school where all courses — everything from English to technical courses — are taught as interactive and project-based. The students employ the tools of the modern workplace including technology and group collaboration. We prepare them for admission to the UC or the modern workplace, wherever they set their sights.”
Exactly so. More students should regard manufacturing a career worth setting their sights on, and more should have the educational alternatives so they gain the training and skills to do so.