Looking Beyond the Pandemic at Our Focus in Schools

Christy Martin, Ed.D.

Editor’s note: This is part one of a three-part series

A little appreciated area of education continues to make a significant contribution to your everyday life. If you are eating, living in relative comfort, healthy, and able to use communication devices in many instances, thank vocation technical education teachers and programs. In this pandemic, they have produced many of the workers that have kept our country and parts of the world running. All these things provide a complicated infrastructure that fulfills basic needs, and even in a shutdown are necessary to keep this country running.

Career education is a much-neglected area of public education. In recent years, schools have allowed these programs to decline in favor of academic requirements for college admission and in response to the public. Some programs have been defunded. Our realization in the last few months that we need to produce our own goods and services and not rely as heavily on a global market has brought to the forefront the need for job training in non-degree programs.

We experienced a national shut down in March. However, many of our workers that were considered essential continued to provide the nation with goods and services that are necessary to maintain our lifestyle. Supplies became low until we realized that certain manufacturing entities, farmers, truckers, plumbers, electricians, technology workers, and HVAC experts needed to continue to provide their services. We learned we need the people that keep the nation supplied, fed, safe, communicating, and moving.

Not only are we dependent on these workers, there is a shortage. One only needs to look at the numerous job openings in service areas to see that the need for a flexible workforce, open for training, is there.

Schools have been focusing on increasing the scores in academic areas. Public and governmental pressures in the past have indicated that our youth need more academic college level skills to compete in a diverse, increasingly technological world. Parents have pushed their youth to strive for careers that require a college education, feeling that college education is the key to their future success. For some youth, that is a worthy ambition. For others, skilled trades are a much more fulfilling and financially lucrative alternative.

According to Forbes, America is facing an unprecedented skilled labor shortage. Prior to the pandemic, the Department of Labor reported, "the US economy had 7.6 million unfilled jobs, but only 6.5 million people were looking for work as of January 2019 and it is more apparent than ever that our country is suffering because of it." One only has to look at the help wanted signs that plaster the doors of our country’s businesses to see that there is a need.

An aging workforce is retiring in record numbers, leaving openings in vocational technical jobs as well as labor and service. Right now, we are in the midst of pandemic survival in schools. However, as educators we still need to be thinking long-term and about the mission of education. All of us need to look at the long-term goal of public education. Our mission has always been to enhance and maintain a free society.  We do this by developing skills in our young people that allow them to be contributing members to our democracy.

We need to take this opportunity to look at where we are in career education, what our country will need post pandemic and how we can best provide America with the well-trained work force that it needs.

About the author

Dr. Christy Martin recently retired with 30 plus years of experience as an educator in K-12 and higher education and another 6 years in social service for foster youth. She considers advocating for at-risk youth a calling. Since retiring in February, she has returned to her love of writing, currently practicing that craft by writing about child welfare and school issues. She lives in East Tennessee, 15 miles from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

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