Lisa Katz| Crain’s Detroit Blog

Last week, Ohio’s Gov. John Kasich announced that he wants schoolchildren to have greater awareness and readiness for high-demand jobs in Ohio. To help ensure this happens, he proposes expanding vocational education before high school. He also is proposing online and other resources to help kids begin thinking about jobs as early as first grade. He also made another important statement: vocational education does not prevent kids from going to college. In fact, it helps to keep them from dropping out. Hear, hear!

In Michigan we seem to have ongoing ambivalence related to our vocational education programs, often integrated into Career & Technical Education (CTE). Flexible funding to support them has been frozen for a number of years and, now, pending legislation threatens to undermine the programs further.

CTE leaders worked long and hard to establish rigorous standards for these programs, emphasizing strength and uniformity statewide. New legislation (SB 66) would allow individual development plans in the context of CTE. The goal is laudable — give kids and parents some flexibility and choice.

Unfortunately, the fuzzier the parameters of a CTE program become, the less likely that colleges and universities are to accept the credits earned through them or to recognize program completers as “college material.” This is a problem in an age when the very opposite should be happening: we should be working hard to make sure that there is uniform articulation between CTE and two- and four-year college and university programs. The idea should not be for CTE to be an alternative track for the noncollege bound but an alternative route in to postsecondary education.

A route that research has proven keeps kids in school and helps them persist both in high school and college.

In Michigan, the jobs that are growing fastest and are in most demand are technical jobs. Investment aimed at our state reinforces this. Just this week President Obama announced a $70 million Advanced Lightweight Metals and Manufacturing Institute (ALMMI) will be housed in Southeast Michigan. The initiative includes five other states and is just the tip of the iceberg in the way of planned federal investments in new technology and investment in manufacturing and other high tech fields.

To say that we should embrace our manufacturing roots but look elsewhere to diversify our economy is both unrealistic and a mistake. Looking at top job-demand among our major manufacturing employers these days, we find that almost 30 percent of the top postings are IT jobs. The very industry itself is shifting and diversifying in ways most never imagined. Do we want to keep and grow these jobs? Do we want the jobs that spin off from them? If the answer is yes, we need to take some cues from Ohio, and make sure that our kids understand at the earliest grade levels that these careers exist, they are exciting, they are important, and they are achievable. CTE programs, starting earlier on and with clear, strongly articulated pathways into postsecondary education, will help reinforce this message and truly prepare our workers for tomorrow.

If we miss this opportunity, shame on us, because states like Ohio will not.

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