A few weeks ago, PBS News Hour ran a story on a topic that I feel strongly about: vocational and technical education.  It discussed how the state of California is spending more than $200 million to improve the delivery of vocational education at the community college level, and to spread the news that there are good jobs out there for non-college graduates—if they have the right technical training.

Not all students are meant for college; those who are not college-bound need to be ready for the world of work with the skills that will make them employable and the flexibility to become lifelong learners in their chosen fields.

Statistics show that there are good jobs and careers out there for skilled workers. A study from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce that noted that the U.S. has 30 million jobs that pay an average of $55,000 a year and don’t require a bachelor’s degree. People with career and technical educations are actually slightly more likely to be employed than their counterparts with academic credentials, the U.S. Department of Education reports.

The future is bright for the skilled trades; existing tradespeople tend to be older than employees in other fields, which means that as they retire, there will be a shortage of these workers.

Unfortunately, with the tight school district budgets of the past several years, vocational education opportunities for high school students have dwindled. Budget cuts have resulted in vocational courses being cut in several districts. While county vocational schools have made up for some of those lost opportunities, we are not serving all of our students who need vocational education.

That’s why NJSBA is forming a task force to study career and technical education in our schools – what we’re doing right, what needs to change, and how we can help our kids chart a path for a future that is constantly changing. We also need to study how improvements in vocational, career and technical education will be funded.

It is my hope that, with input from board members, career and technical education experts, and school staff and administrators, we can develop recommendations on how to better serve this portion of the student population.

Career and technical education in the 21st century will certainly be different than what my generation remembers from decades ago; new fields have developed, with new requirements, and technology has transformed the trades and manufacturing as much as it has other fields.

But what hasn’t changed is the commitment of local boards of education to serve the needs of all students.  I believe we can take action now to make the lives of the students more secure and prosperous.

As always, I welcome your input and thoughts on this topic. If you have ideas, concerns or questions on career and technical education, feel free to share them with me at dsinclair@njsba.org.