Needed: more students taking career technical classes
Summer is usually the time my wife and I do some work on our house. This summer we had to find someone to repair our brick stoop, a job we could not begin to tackle on our own.
When our mason quoted the job he had a helper, but when he arrived, he was working alone. He told us that he had trouble finding and keeping employees. Some prospective workers wanted set hours. In masonry you have to work when the weather conditions are good. Some of our mason’s other hires had walked off the job after a few days (or in one case at lunchtime) because the work was too hard. He ended up working alone, way behind, and frustrated by the lack of interest in learning an important trade. There are countless reports of similar shortages of skilled workers among many technical trades and professions.
There is skilled work that our community needs that cannot be outsourced to another country. No one can fix a toilet or wire an electric box remotely. Are young people just not interested in these skilled trades or is there a larger problem?
I believe that one of the societal impediments to promoting skilled work might be the expectation that all students in K–12 schools are going to go to a four-year college. Today, in Ohio, the graduation requirements for high school are much more demanding than when I started teaching.
For example, when I first began teaching at Heights in 1990, Algebra II was taken by only a small group of students, whereas now it is the third of four required math classes students need for graduation. The practical math classes that students could take then would not give them math credit by today’s standards.
Students enrolled in Career Technical Education (CTE) classes are able to learn practical skills while satisfying the rigorous demands required by our state. Our district has expanded an already wide set of offerings for juniors and seniors who want to learn a skill in school that can provide income as soon as they graduate. For some students their CTE endeavors will enable them to earn money while going to college. Others will make a career based on what they learned and the certificates they earned. Still others will go to a trade school or be accepted into an apprenticeship program because they already have been exposed to a trade. I have known Heights students who’ve been successful with each of these options.
Our school district has been in a consortium with the Warrensville Heights and Shaker Heights districts, where students have access to: audio engineering, digital video production, graphic imaging technology, business management, engineering technology, clinical health careers, exercise science and sports medicine, pharmacy technology, computer networking, criminal justice, marketing, and automotive technology.
Our consortium has grown this year to include the districts at Bedford and Maple Heights, which adds even more programs for our students: media arts, administrative office technology, home improvement and maintenance, teacher academy, financial management, digital design, and firefighting/EMT academy.
Our students have access to the world of work and to professionals who are experts in their fields. More students need to be encouraged to pursue these classes in high school in order to expand their options.
Unfortunately, there are many students who cannot make room for CTE programs in their schedules. The state of Ohio requires students to take so many classes that it is difficult to fit it all in. Certainly, some students will benefit from the rigors of a basic academic schedule, but I believe more students would be better served if they had flexibility to schedule CTE classes in a field of interest.
I would love to see more graduates supporting themselves working as pharmacy technicians or cutting hair part time while taking college classes.
Selfishly, I look forward to more kids leaving high school knowing something about construction and having at least an introductory knowledge of masonry so they can decide if being an apprentice to an experienced expert makes sense for them, and for the next time I need some work done on my house.
Ari Klein is a lifelong community member, a math teacher at Heights High, and president of the Cleveland Heights Teachers Union.