Saturday, September 24, 2005

Making a Case for Technical Education

Today I recieved this comment on Monday's post:

catfood said...
I'm a bit torn on this point, MB. I believe that students need skills that will get them jobs. But I'm also a liberal arts snob, and I believe that everyone needs general, primary knowledge of the world--including arts, sciences, and social sciences. So when someone says we need a better workforce coming out of our public schools, part of me goes eeeewwww... why don't we aim for a better/smarter populace and let the jobs take care of themselves?

I'm not sure that's been tried.
I guess he got me going.
I am posting my response.

My dear catfood,

We need both; the liberal arts and career/technical training. We can't neglect one for the other. There is no one-size-fits-all education style. The college prep track just doesn't work for everybody. It is presumptuous to assume everyone should want or need that type of education.
Who is going to build, maintain, and make all your stuff unless we train people to do it?
Oh...that's right...the Chinese.

Friday afternoon I listened to economic futurist and author Watts Wacker speak at Tri-C Corporate College. He cautioned us (Americans) to wake up and pay attention to China. The Chinese have certainly been paying attention to us, and they have learned a lot. China learned how to make stuff.
First they made it cheap, then they made it well, and now they are investing in automation for manufacturing and training workers to use it. They are taking our jobs. They are eating our lunches. (And by the way, today 400 million Chinese speak English.)

The jobs here aren't taking care of themselves.
The manufacturing industry in the United States is desperate for skilled workers. Thousands of high tech manufacturing jobs in Ohio are going unfilled. Non-automated factories are closing their doors because they can't compete globally, and they won't invest in the new technology because they can't find the people to run it. Young people aren't encouraged to go into manufacturing.
Training programs have few students.

The drop-out rate in our district is about 50%, somewhat improved from the 65% of two years ago, and the unthinkable 75% a few years before that. Although school administrators rejoice at the increased numbers of graduates, very little attention is paid to what happened to those who never finished high school.
50,000 families in Cleveland are headed by dropouts. We cannot attract companies to this city because such a large percentage of our workforce is uneducated and unskilled.

Cleveland's economy was built on manufacturing. It was the industrialists who built the universities as well as the arts and cultural institutions in this city.

We still have the infrastructure.
We can easily revitalize the manufacturing industry here by providing skilled workers trained in automation and robotics. With a skilled manufacturing workforce, existing companies will be able to invest in technology, increase production, and compete with offshore manufacturers.
A skilled workforce will also enable the city to lure big manufacturers here without tax abatements.

Today's manufacturing jobs are high paying. Higher paying jobs will allow Clevelanders to support the arts, send their children to college, play (not work) in casinos, and not have to shop at Wal-Mart.
(And maybe take a course in Chinese.)


Shauna said...

I have worked in the "technical" education arena for a few years now. I worked with medical professionals, technical professionals, business professionals and I believe that no matter your expertise - you are valuable. Let those who teach - teach, those who fix - fix, those who have a liberal arts degree - ???? hmmmmm... talk to us all about being educated???? You are absolutely right about having a focused workforce!

George Nemeth said...


I couldn't disagree with you more whole-heartedly. As the product of a liberal arts education AND someone who worked in a manufacturing company I'd argue that technical professionals are valuable in one area only - the field where they are technically trained. Someone who is generally trained is much more adept at thinking in many different roles and is better able to adapt the types of changes that have hit the manufacturing sector and will eventually reek havoc on the educational industry too.

Tom said...

Here is a small excerpt from the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
"Advanced Manufacturing Technology and Automation Technology"
Manufacturing technology is the backbone of human civilization and the base of national competitive edges. Manufacturing technology is the base of all technologies manufacturing various produces for the surviving and development of human being. The initial and fundamental meaning of technology is "Manufacture". Manufacturing is considered as mother of industry. So far, manufacturing technology has experienced development of mechanization, precision, automation, intelligence and environment fraternization. And the advanced production technology was developed in the 1980s. As the latest development of manufacturing technology, advanced production technology has become a model of industry innovation and modernization, which may create extensive and profound influence on the development of national economy. The significant progresses in Chinese advanced manufacturing technology and automation technology are reflected in the fields of modern integrated manufacturing system and robots.
It seems without us manufacturing types we would not be e-mailing, and blogging here. We would probably be sending pigeons back & forth to each other!

Bill said...


Great post, but...

A line like "Thousands of high tech manufacturing jobs in Ohio are going unfilled" calls for some elaboration. Source? How many thousands? Is the number growing? What's the definition of "high tech manufacturing job"? Is this laid out somewhere in the RamTec stuff?

marybeth said...

I apologize for the oversight Bill.
Yes, many of the stats are cited in the RAMTEC documents. Here is the web address of the National Association for Manufacturers website. The NAM site links to numerous studies as well as labor reports and census data. It's a great source for information.

catfood said...

Hey, MB. I think you're rebutting a point other than the one I am making.

I don't think everyone needs or wants to go to college. Or should. I just get antsy when anyone (not that you've done this) hints that private industry should be setting the curriculum of public schools. There is plenty of room for arts and sciences even in a public high school with "technical" in its name; you and your students are living proof.

All I'm saying is let's not hyperfocus on today's manufacturing job skills at the expense of a complete education. Kids, and adults, need both.

jaws said...

What about the way some Tech programs are set up in the suburban (of Cleveland) High schools?

I'm just taking what I remember from Shaker, but the students who did vocational ed, usually spent half the day in that program, but still took English, Math, History etc.

It's somewhere within the Shaker Planning guide (PDF file), but I don't remember the page.

However, the students didn't just focus on the tech program.

Also, my father went to a Tech HS many years ago (he claims that he had to walk uphill both ways barefoot it was so long ago). But he had to take a complete academic curriculum in addition to tech classes like Woodshop, foundry, etc.

I guess what I'm saying is that vocational programs do really have their place in the schools, but they just get a bad rep. I think if more students were steered into such programs, they may find that they enjoy learning and in doing so have found their niche.

marybeth said...

There is a world of difference between "hyperfocusing" on manufacturing technology jobs and the current state of neglect. Vocational schools became very unfashionable over the last 15 years. In fact, President Bush even suggested eliminating Perkins loans and making huge cuts to Vocational programs. This elicited such a roar from employers in these industries, that the president was re-educated, and the programs were saved.

Yes, preparing for a four year liberal arts degree is one road to a sucessful well rounded life, but unfortunately, parents and educators began to "hyperfocus" on that goal, and it was considered to be the only route to economic viability. That just isn't the case.
The average salary-and-benefit package for manufacturing workers was $62,700 in 2003, while the national average for all jobs was $51,200, according to the U.S. Commerce Department.
What I am saying is that in a day and age when a four-year college degree is increasingly out of the economic reach of many families, and industry is facing a shortage in skilled workers, perhaps it's time to EXPAND the focus of education and offer more of these options once again.

catfood said...

I'm afraid, MB, that we are (as usual) in violent agreement.

marybeth said...

Thanks for starting the discussion. There's nothing better than out 'n out violent agreement with a witty wordsith.

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