Arrived in the US in time for the autumnal snows by the look of it.
But the very first newspaper I pick up devotes half of its front page with an articled headlined with “More high schools turn out hire-ready skilled workers”.
Noting that over the last three decades schools had dropped vocational education programmes with the result that only a very few schools had retained a capability to teach vocational skills leaving increasing numbers of students in a situation where the pathways to employment had been, if not obliterated then at very best been made obscure.
Project Lead the Way was established to create high school engineering and technology curricula. It is reported that one programme it established for manufacturing is now taught in 800 high schools. (This sounds like a lot of schools but remember that the US is a big place!)
These new courses are not a re-run of the old but rather ones that reflect the modern environment. A spokesperson for the manufacturing industry’s training organization says that “manufacturing is dogged by an outdated image that it is very physical, labour-intensive, you’re working with your hands, you’re getting dirty and there’s no career path….. Actually you are working with computers and robots that are doing what you used to do by hand. That requires a skill set in maths and science above what was required a generation ago.”
I wonder how much of our progress in New Zealand is hampered by such outdated views of the world of work?
And it seems that industry is keen to be involved. Siemens needed 1,500 employees for a new turbine and generator plant in Kentucky. It worked with the local community college to design the programme and then when graduates (with at least diploma level qualifications) finished their course they were hired at a starting wage of $US55k per annum.
Volkswagen did a similar thing in Tennessee with a programme to prepare students to repair and maintain the robots that are so important to Volkswagen manufacturing process. It built its own academy next to the factory and then had the local community college deliver the training. This is a high stakes programme that costs the company $US1m per student over three years. They describe it as a bargain since they then have workers with high-level skills. Typically the graduates of these programmes have at least an Associate degree.
Another programme that is gaining momentum is the community-college-apprenticeship model promoted by President Obama. This is gaining ground across the states and invariably involves industry and many high-profile companies.
There seems little doubt that vocational education and training (VET) is making a comeback in the USA just as it seems to be in New Zealand.
What are points to note in this? Well at this point they seems to be:
· that the initiatives seems to be closely associated with employers and industry partners;
· that they involve high schools / community colleges and those industries working in partnership;
· that there is no shyness about preparing students to work in the kinds of jobs that are available locally;
· that the picture is one of students performing well, getting qualifications and entering the workforce into well-paid jobs.
There are lessons in this for New Zealand. While we tenaciously hang on to the notion of the value of a generalized education for all, many students will continue to have low educational outcomes. While regional New Zealand fails to specifically prepare students to work in local industries, youth unemployment will continue to be a factor in the regions.
One of the industry leaders involved in these developments is enthusiastic. As the programmes spread and increase he sees emerging “a path to America’s new middle class.”
And all this on Day 1!