Lancer Letter – It’s Vocademic!

Submitted by Richard Scaletta, GM School District

A traditional assumption: We can pursue academic OR vocational training and career paths.

According to an article on, California is investing $6 million on a campaign to revisit the reputation of vocational education and $200 million to improve delivery of it. There is good reason for this. Skilled trades show a high potential for job growth as a study in 2012 showed that half the nations tradespeople were over the age of 45 and their looming retirements will result in significant shortages. Add to that fact that only 8% of undergraduates are in a skills certification program. In California, they have seen a 3% drop in the share of students taking vocational courses in their community colleges. Indeed, there have been warnings over the last decade that we will be facing critical shortages of skilled tradespeople.

Many reasons are put forth to explain this situation. A big push of “college for everyone” in the 80’s and 90’s left parents impressing their children that college was the only way. Yet, there are 30 million jobs a year making $55,000 that don’t require a bachelor’s degree but do require post-secondary training. Other factors cited on this issue is the lack of communication from businesses and the appearance that industries are often “in flux,” leaving communities for other areas of the country.

In an article for Grown and Flown, author Angie Frederickson, tells of her experience volunteering for her university’s alma mater at a job fair: “When students approached my university’s table, I asked them what type of college experience they were looking for. The vast majority of the seemingly lost-at-a-college-fair students replied with answers like: “I don’t really care where I go. I just have to go somewhere so I can make money.” They cited school counselors who pushed everyone in the graduating class to attend college, and parroted the sentiment that without a bachelor’s degree they would never go anywhere in life.” Frederickson goes on to say, “Many of the students I met viewed a four-year degree as a necessity and a commodity. In their minds, if they just go to any college, they will get a good job and earn enough money to justify the time and tuition they invested”

The travesty in all this is not just that our country is going to economically suffer by having many skilled positions unfilled. The great travesty is that we have created a generation of young people who will be dispassionate about their work. The choice of college only because they think it’s the best way to make money (even though it may not be), is going to leave us with a drop in productivity and a lack of leadership in all areas of the American economy.

There are two things I feel we must do to address this issue. The first is to stop bifurcating education as academic OR vocational. There is not a skilled professional who would not benefit from academic pursuits. Literature, music and the arts can enhance everyone’s lives. And, if you think that skilled jobs in manufacturing or health care are not academic, I invite you to the Bayfront Convention Center on October 11 for Manufacturing Day. You will see that the sophisticated machinery and processes utilized require a high level of academic math, problem solving and communication. For those who are an “academic,” we know that higher levels of thinking are enhanced when accompanied by hands-on application of any theories being studied. Applying knowledge is much more beneficial than just studying information. Perhaps we should just talk about Vocademic education!

The second thing we must do is stay focused on matching careers to the unique individual skills, talents, aptitudes and personalities of each student in an area for which the student has some passion. We have been involved in a project to do this for nearly five years now. Using the Northwest PA Chapter of the National Tool and Machining Association as a partner, we collected the names of 33 “ideal employees” in the machining business. The Career Assessment Center of Erie administered the Guilford-Zimmerman temperament assessment to this group and used their collective scores to establish a personality “benchmark.” We then asked our guidance counselors and principals to think of students whose personality fit this benchmark. Those students then took the Guilford Zimmerman Assessment and if their results matched the benchmark, they were sent on a job shadow in the industry. In many cases, the job shadow led to employment.

One of the characteristics of the “ideal employees” who are now the norm group is that their level of abstraction places them in the 85th percentile and above. This level of abstraction is present with a strength and preference for hands-on work and a “get ‘er done”/no nonsense mentality. This is a unique combination of personality and skill set which is why it is difficult to staff many of the positions in manufacturing. What we found is that every job is not a fit for everyone, so making a career choice can’t be whimsical or based simply on a quest to “make money.” It needs to be based on the unique skills, talents, aptitudes and personalities of each student applied toward an area in which the student has some passion.

Our counselors do not tell every student he or she should go to college. Living out a mission to “meet students where they are and empower them to be all they are capable of being” requires that we help each student recognize who they are and find a good fit of career to personality, aptitudes skills and passion. It’s Vocademic!

The Lancer Letter is a weekly editorial by Richard Scaletta, Superintendent of Schools, General McLane School District. Opinions expressed are Mr. Scaletta’s views on the issues and subjects of discussion, and not necessarily those of or our sponsors.

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