By Jonathan Petree
Nassau County School Board
August 10, 2018 10:00 a.m.
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There is currently a shortage of skilled labor in the U.S. We must change the narrative that vocational education is a “second choice” to the college track. Instead, I believe skills in the trades should be a first choice. Why? One reason to focus on vocational education is that there are high wage careers, in great companies, waiting to be filled, but without any qualified candidates.
But, now for the good news. Students in Nassau County Schools have a tremendous opportunity to learn these sought after skills, as well as earn industry certifications, for FREE in our vocational education classes!
For example, Nassau County high school students may take advantage of the HVAC and Electrical classes that are held at the “Red” Bean Center, which is centrally located off of William Burgess road. Last school year, 100% of the graduates of these classes were quickly snapped up by local companies happy to employ them!!
In addition, as a big supporter of vocational education, I am very excited that our school district has a vibrant and growing Agricultural program at Hilliard Middle-Senior High School. From the teacher to the students, everyone I spoke with was excited to be learning about the many facets of Agricultural Science. In addition, it is wonderful to see the support from the local community for this very important program.
On a visit to the machine shop last year, the teacher, Mr. Sawyer, and the students of the Machinist Technology program at Hilliard Middle Senior High School, provided a great overview of all the skills learned in this very important program. The Machinist program is much needed, and I am happy that the Nassau County School District is providing the opportunity for students to get this training. In the machine shop there is a vertical mill, CNC machine, a new drilling and tapping machine, surface grinder, a lathe, and cold cut saw. In addition, students learn how to program the CNC machine, and computer aided design. One of the students said that he already had an employer just waiting for him to graduate due to the skills he learned in the machinist program.
West Nassau High School, and Yulee High School, both have Building Construction Technology classes that teach students how to safely operate many of the tools used in the building construction trades. These students also have the opportunity to obtain multiple industry certifications while in these classes.
Yulee High School has a very good Automotive Program that trains students in car maintenance and repair. That’s right! Auto shop is alive and well in Nassau County! This program helps prepare students for a future career as an automotive technician if the individual desires.
Both Fernandina Beach High School, and the “Red” Bean Center, have thriving Culinary Arts programs with highly qualified, and dedicated instructors. Among the possible certifications that students have the opportunity to obtain while in this program is the highly sought after ServSafe Certified Professional Food Service Manager certification.
These are just a few of the vocational and career education classes provided by the Nassau County School District. In addition to these are: the CNA program, Vystar Financial Academy, JAVA programming, Aerospace program, Biotechnology program, and Microsoft Office program.
We are also expanding the offerings of our Nassau County Schools Career and Technical Education department with new programs for this new school year. For 11th and 12th graders we are offering a new Entrepreneurship program. In addition, we are beginning to expand CTE opportunities into the Middle School level. This new school year 8th graders will have the opportunity to take the new Advanced Information Technology course. This new course will also provide the opportunity to earn a CAPE certification. Moving forward, the Nassau County School District will continue to expand the vocational education opportunities for Nassau County students.
Here is the main issue. In the second half of the 20th century American schools began to shift their emphasis to getting students ready for college. That in itself is not necessarily a bad thing. However, over the decades, trade work became a second-best option in the eyes of many parents, teachers, and guidance counselors, a path for kids who couldn’t cut it in college-preparation courses.
The consequences of this have been profound. Fast forward 50 years, we see a growing number of college graduates leave school buried in debt and struggling to find work in their field. Many students don’t finish their degrees. Millions of prime-working-age adults have dropped out of the workforce. Even with today’s low unemployment, about 15 percent of males between the ages of 25 and 52 aren’t working, compared with just 5 percent in 1967.
Now, according to a report by Skills USA, only 1 in 3 parents would encourage their child to work in a skilled trade, yet there are over 600,000 skilled jobs going unfilled. Sixty-nine percent of companies expect the shortage to grow worse in the next 3-5 years. It’s time to swing the pendulum in the other direction by encouraging children to pursue a skilled trade if he or she has the aptitude.
We have fabulous opportunities for career and technical education in the Nassau County School District. The classes and certifications attained can lead to steady and lucrative employment directly after high school graduation often times. In addition, there are opportunities after high school to enter one of the many local paid apprenticeship programs that allow an apprentice to “earn while they learn”.
Having skills in a trade is a fantastic pathway to future economic success! There are such great opportunities for FREE training, and FREE industry certifications at the Nassau County High Schools, as well as, at the centrally-located “Red” Bean Center that sits beside the FSCJ Nassau campus. Please help us get the word out so parents will know that there are lucrative careers waiting for their children that DO NOT require a college degree.