Sunday, October 22, 2017

Craig Ford: Career tech should be just as much of a priority as college prep

  The largest school district in Maryland recently received a report from a consulting firm they hired to help improve their education system. The report’s conclusion was simple: career preparation has been marginalized as a priority, and the school system’s programs are not keeping pace with the changing nature of employment.

  More specifically, the report showed that the school system is putting most of its energy and resources into college preparation despite the fact that most of the available jobs are middle-skill positions that require less than a bachelor’s degree.

  Why should people in Alabama care about a report on Maryland’s school system? Because we – and the rest of America – have the same problem.

  The most recent national labor statistics have shown that though there are 6.2 million job openings available throughout the country, there are 7 million people still looking for work. Why can’t those 7 million people fill those 6.2 million jobs? Because they don’t have the skills those jobs require.

  In the aftermath of this year’s hurricane season, Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico are all having trouble finding skilled craftsmen who can repair and rebuild the damaged homes and businesses that were lost.

  Alabama is also struggling to find workers with the skills needed to fill the jobs that are available.

  In 2013, the Southwest Alabama Workforce Development Council reported their region would need 4,000 skilled workers to meet the demand of local employers. But 81 percent of those employers said they were having trouble recruiting employees who had the skills they needed. Among those skills that were in demand were welders, who are critical to the maritime industry in that part of the state.

  The problem is there is a disconnect between our overall goals in education and the needs of our employers in this state.

  When it comes to education, Alabama, like Maryland, is primarily focused on college readiness instead of workforce readiness. Too many of our state leaders are driven by the mistaken belief that college is the only way to get a good job.

  College preparation should obviously be a goal for our school systems but so should career and technical training programs and apprenticeships. And we can emphasize both without sacrificing college preparation for the kids who are on that path.

  But having an inadequate workforce only limits our economic opportunities and our national and global competitiveness. The demand for people with specific training or a two-year technical college degree is growing faster than the demand for four-year college graduates. State leaders need to recognize that fact and begin shifting our education strategy to meet the actual demands of the job market.

  Every school system in this state should have access to a career tech or vocational training center, or at least have a strong apprenticeship program through partnerships with local businesses.

  Additional computer and technology training is also essential. A majority of Americans are worried about computers and technology replacing their jobs in the future. In fact, technological advances are the main reason for the massive loss of jobs in the Rust Belt – and that is a problem that every Alabama lawmaker should also be worried about considering how dependent our state is on manufacturing jobs. We have to make sure that our people are prepared to use technology instead of having their jobs replaced by technology.

  I have always been a believer in the power of a college education. That is why every year I sponsor an education lottery proposal to help finance two-year and four-year degrees. But I also believe that college isn’t for everyone and that the purpose of education is to make sure our kids are able to find a good job that pays a livable wage.

  There’s a reason why jobs and education have been the two most important issues on voters’ minds in every public opinion poll over the last ten years. The economy may be growing, but a lot of people are not seeing any improvement in their lives. A big reason for that is because we aren’t giving people the skills they need in order to be successful.

  We don’t have to sacrifice college preparation in order to make career technical and vocational training more of a priority. But the majority of available jobs don’t require a four-year degree. What they do require is mid-level skills that go beyond what our current K-12 programs offer. We are fools if we don’t recognize that and adjust our educational priorities to meet the needs of our people and our employers.

  About the author: Representative Craig Ford represents Gadsden and Etowah County in the Alabama House of Representatives. He served as the House Minority Leader from 2010-2016.

No comments:

Post a Comment