Lack of enrollment in trades programs a concern

Changes in the job market and expectations for students have George Phillips, supervisor for career technology and enrichment programs for Washington County Public Schools, wondering about the life span of some of the construction trade programs such as plumbing, and heating and air-conditioning.

"We just can’t get kids to want to come into that" at the Washington County Vocational Technical High School, Phillips said. "I’m very concerned about the lack of enrollment in the trades programs."

Traditional vocational education no longer exists, he said, noting that the thrust is for career and college readiness, with all Tech High students encouraged to take math, science and language arts courses in addition to their tech classes.

"Career technology education in the last 10 years has been responding to markets statewide and the local market for workers," Phillips said. "We’ve noticed in the last 10 years the skills that students need when they get out of high school and go into the work force have changed."

High school graduates used to be able to go into manufacturing jobs with no additional training, but these days, many jobs are information- and service-based and require further education, he said.

Phillips said students preparing for futures in modern industry need training to be team members and problem solvers. They must also have good customer service and people skills, he said.

Clyde Harrell, director for curriculum and instruction for Washington County Public Schools, said there remains a need for the trades programs that are part of the curriculum, keeping in mind the career options the economy will support.

At the same time, the workplace is changing and becoming more technology-based, and that’s reflected in the newer programs offered at Tech High, Harrell said.

"We’re always looking at what’s on the horizon," Harrell said.

Dave Reeder, director of secondary education for county public schools, said technology programs across the nation are changing and becoming more comprehensive.

"As we look to the future and changing workplace needs, there’s a constant evolution of things that need to be added," Reeder said.

The Division for College-Career Readiness at the Maryland State Department of Education tracks national trends and makes some program decisions for schools, according to Harrell.

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