North Star Take: End Technical Training Taboo


By Editorial Staff

All too often, people have a tendency to assume that technical and vocational education is for students who just don’t have what it takes, an alternative pathway for troublemakers and for slackers. This stereotype is in large part born of the fact that many schools used to do just that: push students into such paths when they deemed a student just didn’t have what it takes. College-centered education and a focus on STEM education have helped to update our education system; it’s time attitudes toward all forms of education were updated too.

Recent years have seen a shift in the focus of education. Schools are working to ensure that all the instruction they provide makes sure students are “college-ready.” For more and more students, their educational path is planned out for them from the day they set foot in school: high school, and then college, and then a high-paying career. With pushes in almost every grade level to focus on the importance of STEM education, this idea has become even more prevalent. However, not long ago, college was considered an exception, not necessarily the rule. While these eforts to advertise the importance of college have increased college enrollment, rising 39 percent from 1992 to 2012 according to the Institute of Educational Sciences, they has also served to stigmatize the pursuit of vocational or technical education.

This stigmatization is in no small part due to a lack of understanding about what vocational or technical education is. In 1984, the U.S. government passed the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act, or just Perkins Act, establishing federal funding for vocational training programs. In 1990, it was revised to include one of the most widely accepted definitions of vocational or technical  training, terms often used interchangeably, as “organized educational programs offering a sequence of courses which are directly related to the preparation of individuals in paid or unpaid employment in current or emerging occupations requiring other than a baccalaureate or advanced degree.” They allow students to get a head start when it comes to certain careers, such as nursing, carpentry, or mechanics.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics 10 percent of secondary students are enrolled in vocational education, and for these students, it’s working for them. Students taking advantage of vocational or technical training are more likely to employed more quickly than their college bound counterparts. While not all salaries may be as high as some jobs requiring a degree, it is also important to consider that there is no debt inherently associated with these jobs. With the rising costs of college, it is becoming more and more difficult for any given student to graduate college without amassing huge amounts of student loan debt, an average of $28,950 per student according to the Institute for College Access and Success. This is debt not incurred, and thus not having to be paid off, by students entering the workforce through vocational training, students who are also amassing more years of work experience, and corresponding salary, while their counterparts are still in college.

Another factor that many overlook is the fact that vocational schooling is actually closely aligned with the current goals of many educational philosophies. STEM focused learning, for example, encourages students to look at the technical side of things, to learn not just the how but the why of how things work and happen the way they do. According to the U.S. Department of Education, technical schools are used to “teach the science behind the occupation.” The point of technical education is to teach students how things work, why they work, and how to get them to work the way they are supposed to. Technical and vocational education also helps to teach students how to work together, a learning goal highlighted at FHN especially though the recent implementation of Kagan learning methodologies, most of which encourage students to work collaboratively, emphasizing the idea that it takes cooperation in order to complete a task. Vocational schools require students to collaborate, with carpenters, stone masons, and bricklayers all working together to complete the same structure; with nurses learning how to effectively communicate and work with doctors and patients. Vocational training curriculum covers many of the same broad goals as traditional educational methods, just in alternative fashion.

This isn’t to say a student set on college should drop everything and enroll in a vocational program. That is no more the case than saying it’s right for a student to attend college simply because it’s what most people do. The best type of education for a given student is the one they feel the most comfortable with, and the one about which they are the most passionate. A lawyer can’t safely build a house any more than a carpenter or construction worker can effectively practice law, but that doesn’t mean that either of them is any better or worse than the other. Not every job is the same, but every job is important, and it’s time to acknowledge that, and appreciate those differences.