He is a television personality who was the host of a program called Dirty Jobs and he can be seen today on a program called Somebody’s Got To Do IT. Rowe highlights and demonstrates a variety of jobs but a common theme in his programs is an admiration for good old-fashioned work. Rowe has an admiration for people who work with their hands and who work at jobs that often go unnoticed and lack prestige.
Rowe is a booster for jobs that are necessary and well-paying, and which do not require a bachelor degree. Putting his own skin in the game, Rowe has successfully sought scholarship funding for men and women who want to pursue careers as technicians.
Rowe is right of course. The airline industry is facing a critical shortage of aircraft mechanics. Many of the current work force received their training but the military does not produce these people in such great numbers anymore and many of today’s technicians are reaching retirement age. Similarly, there are thousands of unfilled manufacturing jobs because employers cannot find employees with the necessary technical skills. Modern manufacturing is ever more specialized and technical. Wentworth’s manufacturing lab does not have a single piece of equipment that can be operated manually and without detailed training.
There are significant developments in education that do give cause for optimism.
One of the new things is a change in wording. The term “vocational-technical high school” is being eliminated in favor of “career and technical high school.” Schools have long suffered from the image that they were for those who were not academically skilled enough to go to a regular high school where a college preparatory program was often the only program of study.
Another bright spot is the development of partnerships. For example, Wentworth Institute of Technology developed partnerships with the Carpenters Union and the Electricians Union in Boston. The technical training and experience of a journeyman carpenter easily satisfied the technical course component for an associate degree in building construction technology. All that was necessary was to complete the courses in humanities, mathematics and science. The simple truth is that if a student can pass English composition, college algebra and physics (mechanics) that student can earn some sort of a technical associate degree.
One of the most positive changes for the future is the growth and development of technical colleges. States like Georgia, Florida and Ohio have flowering systems. There are 26 institutions in the University System of Georgia. There are 22 college in the Technical College System of Georgia. There are a total of 88 campus sites and what was often said of the University System is abundantly true of the Technical college System: No citizen of Georgia is a very long drive from a state college no matter where the live in the state. In addition there are 17 technical programs in Georgia either at the certificate or degree level that have funds especially set aside earmarked for scholarships for students interested in those subjects.
We can all rejoice in the passage and continued reauthorization of the Perkins Act (1984, 1998, 20006, 2018), the Vocational and Technical Education Act. This act sends money in grants to the states for career and technical education. There is funding for articulation between secondary and post- secondary training with an eye to types of post-secondary credentialing.
The Act provides funding for the Tech Prep Program. It is estimated that 50% of the students in career and technical education programs could be successful students in college if there was proper articulation between high schools and the colleges. (I had some experience at Wentworth with reaching out to high schools through the Tech Prep Program in the years 1996 through 20002.)
We do not wish to share the fate of Saudi Arabia where folks are often disdainful of work so that foreign technicians must maintain the Saudi lifestyle. Who sees a Saudi technician?
We must be careful to see that what is provided is education as well as training. What ever happened to the IT professionals who grew up in the Age of BASIC, FORTRAN and COBOL? Hopefully they learned the underlying ideas of their subject matter. If the computer language or the machine itself changed they were not left helpless. Business and industry want immediate help and at what they consider to be a profitable cost. Educators have the responsibility of preparing students for techniques and devices not yet created five, ten or twenty years down the line and the must help students prepare for the day when thy may (will) be called upon to fill leadership and managerial positions.