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Tuesday, July 5, 2011
The Death of Vocational Education. Insight from Brian Robinson, President & CEO of TRC Staffing Services, Inc.
I grew up during the 70’s and 80’s in a typical suburban neighborhood outside of Atlanta. During that time, Marietta, Georgia was one of the fastest growing areas in the Country. My elementary school was growing so quickly, I went to a brand new school by the time I was in third grade. It was the same way in high school as well; my freshman year I was on a split schedule due to overcrowding and the following year, I had to go to a brand new school built to accommodate the growth.
Looking back on school during that period of time, certain changes stand out to me. One is cigarette smoking in school. Yes, you heard me correctly. During my first year of high school, kids could get their parents to sign a permission slip to smoke on campus. The following year, smoking wasn’t allowed. It still amazes me that kids were allowed to smoke at school back then. Today, an adult is hardly allowed to smoke in public!
The other big change I witnessed was the loss of focus on Vocational Education. The older kids in my neighborhood would always talk about going to classes like wood work, drafting and machine shop. But, when I got to high school, the only way to take those classes was to take a bus for half the day to another school in the county. The schools were focusing on college prep rather than vocational skills, and at the time it really didn’t seem like a big deal. Today, however I think we have a huge problem brewing in the American workforce.
The training gap in the U.S workforce is recognizable to most staffing professionals. We spend a large part of our time helping clients find “people that are hard to find.” Usually, this means a degreed professional like an accountant or engineer. But, more and more, I am seeing skilled blue collar workers fall in
to the “hard-to-find” category. When I say skilled blue collar workers, I mean maintenance techs, plumbers, tool builders, welders, and operators trained on specific machines. When I talk to folks about this problem, many times they seem surprised. But, word is getting out. Just google “skilled workers in the US” and plenty of items will come up regarding this issue.
What does this mean? If you are a policy maker in the government, this is a huge opportunity to get unemployed people working again. We have jobs that are OPEN! But these jobs can only be filled with people with specific skills. We need to train people to possess the real skill sets companies are looking for. If you want to know what these jobs are, just ask your nearest staffing professional.
If you are unemployed or not happy with your job, there are opportunities. More and more technical schools are offering programs in these sought-after fields. If you get a degree or certification in one of these skills, you will become sought after and will separate yourself. Today, a worker with a hard-to-find skill set will set his own wage. You will be able to do this no matter what happens with China and India, because as far as I can tell, no one from China is going to fix my leaking pipes in Atlanta, Georgia.