Saturday | August 19, 2017
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A call for more vocational education

Vocational education in Hawaii, and all of America, is woefully inadequate. So here I would like to lay out a vo/tec educational program that worked exceedingly well for many years.

In the junior high school, grades seven through nine, all students took one vo/tec course each year. For the seventh grade, it was the carpentry/woodworking shop. The eighth grade took metal shop. And the ninth grade students took electrical shop. I repeat, all students, without exception, unless unqualified physically, attended these shops.

In high school, 10th, 11th, and 12th grades, shops were electives. This high school offered to its students an automotive shop, a welding shop, and a carpentry/boat-building shop. These courses were three years in duration. For those electing to take the automotive shop, they could work on their own cars or motorcycles (when time and the schedule permitted), but this shop also maintained all of the high school’s vehicles, including school buses, which were owned by the school district.

The welding shop did all of the welding requirements for the school, with work done by the students under the guidance of the instructors. Upon completion of the three-year welding program, the students were certified in a number of types of welding. The carpentry/boat-building shop was just that. There the students had the opportunity to learn the use all of the hand tools and most of the power tools used in carpentry and boat-building professions and, if electing the boat- building course they built themselves a small boat, which they also designed.

The student’s day was broken into two parts; half was classwork related to their shop of choice and other courses, such as English, American history, mathematics, etc., as required by state law for graduation. But, where possible, courses were oriented toward their shop work. The other half of the day was hands-on training in the shops.

There was another aspect of vocational training at this high school. Many students participated in a diversified cooperative training program. If someone wanted to go to work in an office, perhaps as a bookkeeper or secretary, he took courses in the morning to help become proficient in those areas and in the afternoons the school found work for them, for which they were paid, in a store, or an accounting firm, or a doctor’s office. And the same was done for those who wished to study to become a cosmetologist, or dental assistant, or go into nursing. This program was particularly attractive to many students who were experiencing financial problems, but still wished to continue to get their education, finish high school, and be employable upon graduation.

What I have described as a very productive and effective vocational program in a public school system was found in my high school more than 60 years ago. Unfortunately, that program no longer exists there, or anywhere else. In the push to get our children into a college or university, we have trashed our vocational training in the public schools and relegated it to private vocational schools that charge extremely high tuition and offer no guarantee, except that you will have a very large bill to pay upon completion. Public schools can do as well; in fact, they can do a lot better, but we have relegated vocational/technical training in our public schools to second-class status and it has cost our nation and our youth dearly.

Of course, that was then and now is now, so things have changed and vocational courses need to be changed accordingly. I am not suggesting that the same type of vocational courses taken many years ago should be offered now. Today there is a tremendous need for people trained in today’s skills on today’s equipment. Welding equipment has changed. Automobiles now have computers that diagnose problems. And factories use machines that need to be programmed, as well as operated.

All offices are now computerized in one way or another. Our entering workforce today needs to be given a foundation in both the hardware and software aspects of computer-based information systems, and that foundation needs to be built in high school so students can graduate and be prepared to enter the workforce. This would include the setup and operation of computer-operated machinery or equipment. Today, if you are not computer literate, if you are not computer competent, when applying for a job where computers are used, regardless if it is a factory or plant, a doctor’s office, a department store, or as a mechanic, you won’t be hired. There are jobs out there, plenty of them, with good pay and a good future, but not for those who are untrained in the skills required today.

Not everyone is going to go to college. Not everyone should go to college. But everyone has to have skills that make them marketable, and for those graduating from high school and not going on to a college or university, our public schools have shamefully neglected them over the past three or four decades, and our youth are hurting because of it.

If Hawaii is going to spend large sums to improve its public education system, it would be wiser and money better spent to look first toward upgrading and modernizing its vocational education system to meet the needs of our youth as they try to enter today’s employment market.

If you want them to stay in Hawaii you have to educate them in the skills that are needed here in Hawaii.

John P. Ackert is a Kailua-Kona resident.