In The News

Bring Back Shop Class  -By Josh Mandel, Treasurer of Ohio

The Wall Street Journal, April 21, 2014

In American high schools, it is becoming increasingly hard to defend the vanishing of shop class from the curriculum. The trend began in the 1970s, when it became conventional wisdom that a four-year college degree was essential. As Forbes magazine reported in 2012, 90% of shop classes have been eliminated for the Los Angeles unified school district's 660,000 students. Yet a 2012 Bureau of Labor Statistics study shows that 48% of all college graduates are working in jobs that don't require a four-year degree.

Too many young people have four-year liberal-arts degrees, are thousands of dollars in debt and find themselves serving coffee at Starbucks or working part-time at the mall. Many of them would have been better off with a two-year skilled-trade or technical education that provides the skills to secure a well-paying job.

A good trade to consider: welding. I recently visited Pioneer Pipe in the Utica and Marcellus shale area of Ohio and learned that last year the company paid 60 of its welders more than $150,000 and two of its welders over $200,000. The owner, Dave Archer, said he has had to turn down orders because he can't find enough skilled welders.

According to the 2011 Skills Gap Survey by the Manufacturing Institute, about 600,000 manufacturing jobs are unfilled nationally because employers can't find qualified workers. To help produce a new generation of welders, pipe-fitters, electricians, carpenters, machinists and other skilled tradesmen, high schools should introduce students to the pleasure and pride they can take in making and building things in shop class.

American employers are so yearning to motivate young people to work in manufacturing and the skilled trades that many are willing to pay to train and recruit future laborers. CEO Karen Wright of Ariel Corp. in Mount Vernon, Ohio, recently announced that the manufacturer of gas compressors is donating $1 million to the Knox County Career Center to update the center's computer-integrated manufacturing equipment, so students can train on the same machines used in Ariel's operations.

In rural Minster, Ohio, near the Indiana border, electrician and entrepreneur Jack Buschur is creating the Auglaize & Mercer County Business Education Alliance, which will use private-sector dollars to fund a skilled-trade ambassador to walk the halls of local high schools with the mission of recruiting teenagers into these fields. This ambassador will also work to persuade school guidance counselors and administrators to change their tune that college is the only route to prosperity, and to encourage them to inform their students about the many opportunities in skilled trades.

At Humtown Products in Columbiana, Ohio, near the Pennsylvania border, CEO Mark Lamoncha is coordinating tours for local high-school guidance counselors to visit his company so that they can learn about job opportunities in advanced manufacturing and 3-D printing. Rather than having students seeing posters only for Ohio State, Pitt, Harvard and Yale in their high-school hallways, he wants to convince the schools' guidance counselors to also post signs for the Choffin Career & Technical Center in Youngstown and the New Castle School of Trades in Pulaski, Pa.

The Ohio School Board Association recently heard a similar message—from the actor John Ratzenberger, whom you might remember as Cliff Clavin, the mailman from the 1980s sitcom "Cheers." Mr. Ratzenberger these days is devoting considerable charitable time and dollars toward raising the profile of America's skilled laborers as role models for young people.

He began this effort in 2004 with a TV show called "Made in America," focusing attention on the rewarding labor of blue-collar workers making everything from Steinway pianos and Wonder Bread to Caterpillar equipment and Chris Craft yachts. Now he's crisscrossing the country urging schools to invest in vocational education. On "Cheers," Cliff Clavin never appeared to be overly industrious, but in promoting the restoration of shop class in U.S. high schools, Mr. Ratzenberger is working hard to put young Americans in good jobs. Educators could learn a thing or two from him.

Schools join forces on tech education

Tolles, Jonathan Alder are developing junior-high classes on engineering

PLAIN CITY, Ohio — As a teenager struggling to figure out what he wanted to do with his life, Jeramy Fyffe toured a vocational school.

He saw a kid hunched over a hunk of steel, sparks flying from the welder that he steadied with gloved hands. Fyffe watched the metal change shape, and the transformation fascinated him.

He went on to graduate from Tolles Career & Technical Center’s welding and fabrication program in 2008. For nearly three years now, he has worked at Autotool, a Plain City company that designs and builds robotics and machine systems for the automotive industry.

Fyffe, 25, said the only thing that would have made his career path better was if he’d been interested earlier. Maybe then his early high-school years wouldn’t have been so difficult.

Now, the movement toward exposing students to career and technical education at a younger age is gaining steam. One central Ohio district aims to lead the way.

It was expected that as part of Gov. John Kasich’s mid-biennium budget review the state would set aside money that schools could tap to put career-based classes into middle schools next school year. Kasich has made it clear that it’s a priority. But even though the money, and any accompanying mandate, isn’t likely to happen now until 2015-16, officials at Tolles and the Jonathan Alder school district in Madison County aren’t waiting.

Tolles expects to spend as much as $200,000 from its own operating budget to equip laboratories and hire instructors who will teach pre-engineering technology and information-technology classes — that could include anything from Web design to animation — to seventh- and eighth-graders at Jonathan Alder beginning in August. The boards of both schools approved the agreement last month.

A separate component of the new partnership will identify students at risk of dropping out to engage them with vocational education at a younger age, said Chris Piper, principal of Jonathan Alder Junior High.

“Kids focus on a career and say early on that they want to be engineers, but in reality they have no idea what that means,” Piper said. “If we start exploratory classes earlier, then maybe they’ll find the hook they need or rule something out. It’s about ‘How can we make school relevant to you?’  ”

Thomas Applegate, executive director of the Ohio Association of Career-Technical Superintendents, said other districts would like to add career-based education at a lower grade level, but cost is a factor. Nonetheless, he said the tide seems to be changing, and more public schools might be willing to collaborate to put more emphasis on such classes.

“Society long thought that there was only one way to heaven, and it was with a baccalaureate degree,” he said. “People are starting to realize that maybe that isn’t true.”

Tolles Superintendent Kim Wilson said the partnership is a gamble for all involved: a financial risk for her school and for Jonathan Alder because of the potential that more high-schools students — and some of the state money that follows them — will head down the road to Tolles.

Alder Superintendent Gary Chapman said it’s worth it: “It’s about what’s best for the student, not about protecting what’s under your roof anymore.”

The Tolles/JA partnership is one of several projects happening in the area geared toward bridging the gap between what the manufacturing industry increasingly needs in employees and what skills the schools are teaching.

The Marysville school district in Union County will open Ohio’s first manufacturing-related specialized high school in August. Using $12.4 million from Ohio’s Straight A grant fund, the school will focus on science, math, engineering and technology. District officials expected about 100 students to enroll for next school year. So far, 150 have signed up.

Bassam Homsi, president of Autotool, is involved with several projects in schools and with other businesses because he said the future of manufacturing relies on recruiting employees with the right skill.

“We need for these young kids and their parents to see and embrace what we each do,” Homsi said. “They need to see that today’s manufacturing is sophisticated, clean, smart and advanced.”

The vocational schools of Tolles, Ohio Hi-Point in Bellefontaine and Tri-Rivers in Marion are also working together with Homsi and economic-development organizations to raise more than $1 million to build mobile robotics and manufacturing labs.

The labs, equipped with milling machines, lathes and computer-aided design stations, would be taken to schools and community events in the eight central Ohio counties served by the three career-center schools in an effort to attract students to programs that teach what industry needs.

Computer-aided drawing, basic hands-on machining, robotics and digital computing are among the most-needed skills, Homsi said.

Several other districts, including Marysville, Columbus, Grandview Heights and Westerville, are working together on a second mobile-lab project also to be used as a manufacturing-trades recruiting tool, this one primarily in Franklin and Union counties.

Josh Wygle, who graduated from Tolles’ welding and fabrication program in 2012, also works at Autotool. He has recently been meeting with local educators and industry leaders to talk about what would have helped him advance even more quickly in his career.

Like Fyffe, he said starting earlier would have helped.

“If you don’t understand the machines, you can’t begin to understand the weld blueprints,” Wygle said. “The earlier you learn a concept, the better off you are.”

Special Assignment: Vocational School

BLOOMINGDALE, Ohio -- The Jefferson County Joint Vocational School isn't where you'll find your typical high school students.

Power mechanics, electrical engineering, and culinary arts may not be your typical high school classes, but tailor-made programs like these help students prepare for a smooth transition into the job market.

You'd be surprised at just how many places employ graduates from vocational schools, many of them are in positions you interact with on a regular basis.

For these students, the classroom is a training ground. But tike the sign on the building reads, these aren't your typical high school classrooms.

“I've been cooking my whole life, and I'm going into the Navy to be a chef,” said Alexis Hollen, a culinary arts senior. “I want to go to the White House and be a chef.”

Hollen, like many JVS students, is getting the tools and training she needs to follow her dream.

“You’re doing hands-on stuff,” Hollen said. “You’re not sitting in class the whole time. You're actually doing stuff to help you, and you're doing something that you want to do when you're older and get out of high school, so it makes it fun for you.”

There are 14 programs at the JVS. Students still take traditional classes like Math and English, but as Superintendent Todd Phillipson said, they also spend time in a lab honing the skills of their chosen trades.

“That niche is what really helps students to be successful because when they come here, they really know what they want to do and they buy into all of their school work and not just one part of it,” Phillipson said.

Sparked by an interest to learn, students develop more than just job skills.

“It's not just about the skill they learn,” Phillipson said, “it's also about a work ethic that helps to be developed.”

In each program, there are advisory boards in direct contact with employers, allowing for two-way communication about jobs and the ever-changing industries. They try to keep the curriculum as cutting edge as possible.

“The businesses that stay involved with our program see a seamless transition from our environment to their environment because they've helped us prepare the scenarios that the students will work in, the tasks and the competencies that they need to work on,” Junior Welding Instructor Todd Parker said.

Each program tailors those scenarios to give kids the qualities those employers are looking for.

“In this area in particular, it's communication skills,” JVS Culinary Arts Instructor Angie Allison said. “Kids are so used to texting and being on the computer so much, they (employers) really like that my students have that personal interaction. We do have a restaurant and we do cater events.”

Senior students even have the opportunity to begin working before graduation if they meet specific criteria.

“We have the capability to put a student out on early placement after the first nine weeks if they meet the criteria of attendance and their grade-point average and they have the skills that the employer is looking for,” JVS Electrical Trades Instructor Richard Bell said.

Hollen’s choice of the culinary arts can allow her to follow the example set by some of her family members.

“Ever since I was little, my grandpa and my dad were both in the Navy, and I told my grandpa I wanted to follow in his footsteps,” Hollen said. “So that's what I'm doing, and I'm doing something that I love to do.”

Philipson said over the years, the areas where students get jobs fluctuate. These days, they are seeing a lot of welding and power mechanics students go into the oil and gas industry.

Hollen ships out with the Navy to begin path to becoming a chef on July 1. 

Below is a link to an article on CTE in District Administration magazine where MVCTC was heavily featured.

Delaware Area Career Center In The News:

DACC Student qualifies to try out Google Glass

Honda gives hybrid to DACC auto tech students


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