young man learning trade
Should We Do More Job Skills Training in Schools?

September 7, 2022

By Kurt Rohrs |

In the ongoing struggle between academic and social instruction in schools, perhaps we are leaving out the most practical instruction of all—job skills training.

As our local economy continues to develop, there has been a shortage of both skilled and non-skilled workers who can take jobs that are available. This has frustrated business owners and slowed economic growth. A prime example is Intel, which is building two world class wafer fabrication facilities here in Chandler. These projects will employ thousands of workers in high-paying jobs during their construction and once it is completed. We should be preparing our local Chandler Unified School District (CUSD) kids to fill those jobs. That requires a plan.

What Would It Take to Get There?

An education plan that incorporates job skills training could take the following form:

  • Elementary School (PreK – 6th grade). Provide a firm foundation in reading and math skills that prepare students for the next steps in their education. In fifth and sixth grade, introduce general career choices for students to consider.
  • Middle School (7th and 8th Grade). Broaden curriculum into other education areas such as science and history, and also introduce specific career path opportunities to students to form a basis for potential career choices.
  • High School (9th and 10th grade). Students should start making choices on specific career paths and learning the details about these choices.
  • High School (11th and 12th grade). Involve students in off-campus work/study programs, internships, and job training programs in addition to classroom learning programs in their specific fields of interest.

Present a Broad Array of Choices

One criticism of CUSD is that they are too narrowly focused on a university education as the preferred, if not only, goal of a graduate. Career counselors typically do not present other options as equally beneficial to students. This ignores the reality that not all students are suited for a university education and not all good-paying jobs require a university degree. There are also some university degree options that have rather doubtful economic value to students. They can then become saddled with excessive student debt and little opportunity for reasonable job prospects.

In addition to a university education, other suitable options that should be presented to students are:

  • Trade Schools. There is a significant shortage of skilled trade workers. These are often well-paying jobs with detailed training programs. Students typically complete these programs with no debt and have a good job waiting for them.
  • Technical Certificate Programs. The technology field moves very quickly. In order to keep pace, many technology companies often offer their own certificate programs specific to their technology, such as application development, database management, cybersecurity, and network management. These are the jobs of the future.
  • Military Enlistment. Some of the best technical skills training is provided by the military. They are very proficient at taking young people from all types of backgrounds and training them in complex operations.

Keeping Students Engaged and Motivated

One of the common complaints heard from parents and teachers is the challenge to keep their kids engaged and motivated. Igniting a student’s interest in a career path early on in their education may help them be more keenly aware of their purpose for being in school. Students who typically ask the question “Why am I here?” or say things like “This is boring” would have a clear and immediate reference to the purpose of being in school and participating. The goal changes from just merely “graduating” to “I have a plan after graduation, and I know what I need to do to realize it.”

K-12 education is sometimes regarded as a monolithic entity unto itself with tenuous connections to continuing activity after graduation. Perhaps it should be regarded as just one part of a journey of a student’s development into a productive adult.

Partnering with Other Education Entities

Effective cooperation with other educational entities, such as the East Valley Institute of Technology, Trade Schools, and Community Colleges that offer critical opportunities is the key to developing the pathway to successful careers for our students. However this can be hampered by interagency squabbles, mostly about control and funding since there is a lot of money involved here. Which entity “owns” the kid and the funding that comes with that kid is often a serious point of contention. These obstacles need to be removed for there to be effective cooperation between these entities. This may require some legislative fixes since funding rules and regulations come primarily from State statutes. But when it’s all said and done, these fixes shouldn’t be about the institution’s best interests. They should be about the student’s best interests.

Partnering with City Government and Local Businesses

The City of Chandler also has a keen interest in the availability of a skilled workforce as an integral part of their economic development plans. Companies will be reluctant to locate here if they cannot hire the employees they need to operate their facilities. The City should be sharing critical information on projected workforce needs to help CUSD develop useful programs and for students to better understand what opportunities are available to them. Local business hiring managers should frequent the schools to talk to students and explain the expectations for when they eventually enter the workforce. This should also help connect students to the business community outside the classroom and expand their perception of the very real world that awaits them after they graduate.

So, What Is the Purpose of Education?

Schools should be more than just “babysitting” duty or fulfilling a state-mandated curriculum. There must be tangible and well-defined goals that engage our students and develop a sense of purpose in them. Teachers may find it useful to help motivate students if those students more clearly understand why they are in school and what the intended result of their education is. It’s time to redefine the purpose of public education as the process of producing capable adults who can effectively participate in the economic activity of the community.

Kurt Rohrs is a candidate for the Chandler Unified School District Governing Board. You can find out more about his campaign here.

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