June 12, 2003
The death knell is sounding for vocational programs throughout the U.S. Readers who responded "Yes, vocational programs have been cut" to thefabricator.com's recent question regarding the status of vocational programs where they live outnumbered those responding "No, vocational programs are intact" three to one.
Many of those who responded that programs are still intact expressed concern that they may be cut in the near future.
A recent article by Marty Rice, a welding instructor concerned about the growing trend to cut vocational and technical programs and the rumors circulating that President Bush plans to eliminate funding for the Perkins Act in the 2004 budget, inspired the question.
In his article, Rice stated, "My professional opinion is that cutting vocational programs is a bunch of bunk, as we say in Texas. Shut down vocational education and watch the dropout rate and skilled labor shortage rise! Recently a shipyard had to go to Ireland and India in search of welders. A decrease in craftsmen and -women in all of the construction trades is projected. Who the heck will build the buildings, planes, trains, and automobiles?"
The Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act of 1998 provides funding for secondary and postsecondary vocational education programs from 1998 to 2003, covering program years July 1, 1999, through June 30, 2004. As stated in the act, "The purpose of this act is to develop more fully the academic, vocational, and technical skills of secondary students and postsecondary students who elect to enroll in vocation and technical education programs."
A legislative alert issued in November 2002 by the Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE) stated that reliable sources have indicated that the president's budget proposal to Congress early next year would eliminate funding for the Perkins Act and use the budget allocation to offset a shortfall that exists in the Pell Grant program, a federal initiative to help the lowest-income students pursue postsecondary career and technical education as well as other postsecondary programs. The ACTE supports the Pell Grant program, but not at the expense of the Perkins funding.
A related concern is the possible transfer of all Office of Vocational and Adult Education (OVAE) functions to the Department of Labor (DOL), a move that many believe would result in a focus on training versus a more comprehensive education.
According to the ACTE, decisions on the proposal will be made by December, and action is needed now to prevent the elimination of the Perkins Act. Other national and state organizations have issued similar alerts and calls to action.
Thefabricator.com readers told us much more than whether vocational programs in their areas had been cut—they told us what the cuts meant to them, to the country's youth, and to the industry. One of the most poignant responses came from a mother, who wrote,
Vocational instructors and individuals who serve on educational advisory boards told us what they've experienced:
"I will be laid off July 1 from the vocational educational technical system in the state of Connecticut. I have been an instructor for 26 years in the Metal Trades Technology Dept. Our focus has been fabrication with a strong lead program of welding. With the budget crisis in Connecticut, the adult programs, excluding nursing, will be closed as of July 1."
"Being a member of several advisory boards at our local technical school, I find it disgusting that the school, while chanting the need for teamwork and partnership with industry, will turn right around and cut needed curriculum. This has been an ongoing problem for many years. Schooling has become a business, the bottom line being the almighty dollar. What we need are schools that champion the quality of humanity through education as the bottom line."
Several readers gave reasons other than lack of funds for cutting programs:
"Unfortunately, in north central Ohio, the cutbacks have been fueled by low enrollments as much, if not more than, funding!"
"Programs have been cut as a direct result of a lack of job opportunities, specifically welding. This should be of concern to all of us. The true source of all wealth is in manufacturing, and when this goes, our country's prosperity is soon to follow."
Are enrollments in existing programs declining? If so, why? C.J. Carlson, a welding instructor for the past nine years at the Homer S. Gudelsky Institute for Technical Education at Montgomery College, Rockville, Md., described a situation that substantiates this claim.
Because of the low enrollment, next spring's session will be the last for Carlson's welding class. And after all of the current daytime students matriculate, the entire training program will end.
Readers suggest declining enrollment is due to several factors: the previously mentioned lack of job opportunities and the failure of school systems to encourage students to pursue vocational and technical education. Others cite the long-standing image problem associated with the trades.
What about the lack of job opportunities? Yes, businesses have cut back as a result of the economic crisis. But a shortage of skilled labor remains, a shortage that will become even more critical once recovery begins—particularly if training opportunities go away. Impending Crisis – Too Many Jobs, Too Few Peopleby Roger Herman and Joyce Gioia discusses the anticipated crisis. The authors speculate that once the recovery begins, the labor shortage "will make the tight labor market of the late 1990s look like a practice session."
Stephen J. Martelli, a reader from Maine, recognizes the skilled labor shortage and is doing something about it.
Hubert Nickisch, who just completed his first semester in the Kern County Regional Occupational Program (ROP) in Mojave, Calif., had nothing but praise for the program.
|Kern County ROP welding class. Hubert Nickisch is on the far right.|
If you are concerned about the fate of vocational and technical education programs and want to make your feelings known to your congressional representatives, go to www.acteonline.org/policy/index.cfm. According to the ACTE Web site, there you will find an online tool that you can use to write your letter, print it to send by fax, or e-mail it to specific members of Congress. Simply enter your zip code in the box under "Action Alert" to receive contact information for your representative in Congress, and you are ready to write and edit your letter or e-mail. A sample letter is provided under "Action Alert" that addresses the issues. For your convenience, the ACTE has included a list of key Republican leaders in Congress for you to target.
While the collective efforts of those who strongly support the funding may save the Perkins Act and technical programs, other issues still must be addressed. The industry in conjunction with education must find ways to make the trades and training more attractive to young people.