Shop classes. Vocational training. Career Technical Education. Career Education programs.
Whatever you call them, programs preparing students for careers working with their hands are back in fashion after a decades-long hiatus.
“California Community Colleges launched a new statewide campaign in July to raise awareness among students, parents, counselors, teachers and others about Career Education programs (formerly referred to as Career Technical Education) offered at all 114 community college campuses across the state,” Career Education Campaign officials said. “These Career Ed programs offer accessible, hands-on, real-world workforce training to help students get good-paying, in-demand jobs in California’s growing industries, including Advanced Manufacturing, Agriculture, Biotechnology, Clean Energy, Cyber-security, Construction, Global Trade, Health and many more.”
Clearly, the idea of vocational training has evolved beyond the high school wood and metal shop classes some old-timers might recall creating ashtrays in, officials said.
Solano Community College is firmly on the Career Ed bandwagon with its new, state-of-the-art Automotive Technology facility in Vallejo, which opened in August.
At that time, course instructor Paul Hidy called the facility “a game-changer.”
Following some 30 years during which most California high schools stopped offering vocational classes, Solano Community College’s 4-year-old automotive course’s growth proves letting those programs go was a mistake, Hidy said then.
“Vocational training in most high schools went away in the 1980s, and by the 2000s someone began to realize, ‘Oops, now we have no one to fix anything,’ and that started to turn around,” he said. “We’re doing our best here to make a change.”
One reason vocational training was lost in most California high schools was a concern that minority students were being tracked into them automatically, without being considered for the college track, officials said. Another reason was a lack of funding, California Community Colleges Chancellor Eloy Oakley said.
“It’s been in the last five years [that] there’s been a huge emphasis, and renewed investment,” he said.
Today, the emphasis is on college and career readiness---not either/or, he said.
“Either way, you still need to gain a certain level of skill and understanding at the college level,” Oakley said.
The Solano Community College automotive program started at the Armijo High School auto shop in Fairfield with 24 students, moved to the old Wilson-Cornelius Ford dealership on Georgia Street in Vallejo and is now in its new facility on Ascot Parkway in Vallejo. It’s grown to some 200 students and three full-time instructors, Professor Andrew McGee said.
McGee, a Vacaville resident, had to learn the trade at a trade school in Sacramento, since there were no options locally at that time, he said. He spent a decade in the aviation industry before turning to automotive, he said.
“The skill set you learn here is highly transferable,” he said. “Things like troubleshooting, manual dexterity, communicating---writing and speaking---are needed in any industry. It’s not an old school auto shop mentality. It’s clean; you’re not tripping over tools. Everything is put away. It’s not your dad’s auto shop. The baby boomers are leaving the industry and there’s a huge deficit of people with the needed skill set. I think we’re beginning to reverse the negative stereotype of the automotive industry.”
The SCC program offers a traditional two-year associates degree, as well as a two-semester, short-term certificate of achievement, based on one or two specific car components like oil change or tires and wheels, or brakes, the men said.
“This program is designed to prepare graduates for entry-level employment in the automotive industry as apprentice technicians, parts specialists, service consultants, or specialists in one of the many areas in the automotive service and repair industry,” according to the program’s literature. “Students who complete the program will be technically proficient in entry-level skills as defined by the National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation.”
The program includes classroom and lab training, and prepares students for a relatively good-paying job in any number of aspects of the automotive industry, including service writers, insurance adjusters, services and fleet managers, as well as mechanics and technicians, McGee said. A good auto mechanic can expect to earn some $30 per hour, he said.
The program has some 50 cars of different makes and models that the students---some 10 percent of which are women---work and learn on, he said.
Education officials are still working to reverse the impression that there’s something wrong with earning a living working with your hands, Oakley said.
“We’re not training people to do roofs, and that will continue to be a fluid work force, but we are concentrating on career ed,” he said. “The economy and workforce of today [are] different than [they were] 20 years ago. There’s a need for a college credential to get into any well-paying job these days.”
A complimentary effort has been under way for the past few years in the Vallejo public schools, offering what officials there call “Wall to Wall Academies” to prepare students for jobs and/or college.