Thanks to budget cuts and a growing emphasis on preparing teens to enter four-year colleges or universities, many trade-related programs have been reduced or cut completely from the public school system. This has shrunk the pool of qualified workers who can trade their caps and gowns for hard hats and steel toes upon graduation.
One strategy delivering positive results is to tailor education that fits the prevailing college-bound mindset of today’s students. Such programs allow young people to have the college experience, yet still learn the skills necessary for a trade. These options provide an attractive alternative to the growing price tag of a four-year degree. By completing a vocational program, students save the expense of two years of college – while also paying lower annual tuition compared to four-year programs – and enter well-paying careers sooner and with far less or no debt.
It is a trend that has gained significant traction. Diesel-technology programs at North Dakota State College of Science (NDSCS) and Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology offer a blend of classroom and hands-on learning to prepare students for careers in just two years. Additionally, agreements with manufacturers and distributors allow participants to work in local dealers’ shops as part of the course, with many students guaranteed employment with those dealers after graduation.
A technician and career developer for the Komatsu distributor in North Dakota reports that the company has seen great returns from its partnership with NDSCS. “The students are part of our culture for two years. There’s no learning curve. Once they walk across that stage at graduation, they are full-time employees.”
Cramming for tests and writing endless term papers can make even the brightest students sweat. Research shows that programs which blend real-world experience with traditional classroom teaching yield the deepest level of learning by combining theory with practice. For educators catering to the construction industry, designing programs in this way is becoming a key focus.
One school demonstrating success with this model is Ohio’s Butler Tech, which offers hands-on, technical training for high schoolers. Butler Tech students in construction and landscaping programs recently remodeled a local Little League complex, in addition to taking academic courses. Supervisor Jon Graft says that the program gives students an education that translates to their future jobs and also introduces them to industry professionals, creating a pipeline between employers and potential employees.
The Association for Career and Technical Education says that students enrolled in similar programs have a high school graduation rate of 93 percent, with 60 percent of students pursuing careers in the field for which they received technical training.
Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) applies a similar model at the four-year university level with its concrete-industry degree. While in the program, students combine classwork with hands-on learning on their way to a bachelor’s degree. Another program aim is to match students with potential employers for summer jobs that pay as much as $20 an hour and can produce multiple job offers upon graduation.
“If we can’t get students out to the industry, our goal is to bring the industry (to them),” explained Nicole Green, Marketing and Recruiting Coordinator for the MTSU concrete-industry program, in an interview with online media outlet, Construction Dive.