Students look to career future

Published 10:51 am Monday, October 6, 2008

By By Kerry Whipple Bean – publisher
Half a century ago, just 20 percent of the workforce needed a four-year degree for a professional occupation.
Fifty years later, that number hasn't changed. But the number of skilled workers has tripled, and in some cases the need for such employees exceeds the available pool of trained workers.
While the dream of many parents is still to see their children graduate from college, Etheridge said a four-year degree isn't necessary for a good-paying job, and more employers need newcomers to the job market to have the skills that technical schools and community colleges can offer.
At the Escambia Brewton Career Technical Center, students are getting the chance to learn job skills while they are still in high school, with classes that include skills from welding to woodworking.
The statistics lure Henderson from her 25 years in “regular” education to career tech.
Henderson visits eighth graders in the county every year to help them understand how career technical classes can help them.
Even if they take a class and determine that's not the right career path for them, they have at least learned a skill they can use, she said.
The career technical center offers classes including welding, automotive technology, masonry, child care and business skills, among others. The school is one of just two in the state that offer a forestry program.
Henderson said the career technical program hopes to add culinary arts classes at its Atmore school as Poarch Creek expands its gaming and hotel operations.
But specific job skills aren't the only thing the center teaches. A class in job skills fundamentals - work ethic, resume writing, financial literacy, teamwork and other basics - is also part of the curriculum. Employers tell Henderson that's one of the most important needs.
The career technical center already partners with industry executives to learn what skills students need to succeed.
Etheridge said his workforce development office wants to continue such partnerships, including even younger students and two-year schools.
The office plans projects for students as young as elementary school, with coloring books that show not just doctors and nurses but welders and pipefitters and other industrial jobs, as well as computer games that can help them see their opportunities in industry.
Etheridge also said he hopes to ask industry leaders to talk to older students about the job skills they will need to succeed.
The career technical center is already working with the workforce development office on job skills needs, and local industries are lending a hand, too.
At the high school level, students getting an occupational diploma also have an outside employment component to their curriculum, Henderson said.
In fact, by 2011, Henderson expects No. 1 diploma in Alabama to be the advanced academic diploma with advanced career technical coursework.
Career technical classes are hands-on, whether students are building cabinets, fixing cars or taking care of toddlers. But the lessons don't stop there.