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June 15, 2014

Students need engineering, not metal shop

State revamps its approach to vocational education efforts

GREENSBURG – Tom Hunter resisted sending students into vocational education.

The Greensburg school superintendent spent years promoting college as a pathway to success for students from the community – population 11,747 – hit hard by the Great Recession. Four plants in the area were closed. All that was left were mostly low-paying, low-skilled jobs.

If employers complained to Hunter that his graduates lacked entry-level work skills, his response was curt: “It’s not my job to turn out good worker bees.”

These days Hunter takes a different view.

In July, Hunter and the Greensburg schools will open a $2 million, 16,000-square-foot training center that, with the help of local employers, creates a pipeline for students into two of Indiana’s fastest growing industries – advanced manufacturing and logistics.

Hunter sees the program as an alternative for nearly 40 percent of Greensburg students who, struggling in school, may not have the option of pursuing a traditional, four-year college degree.

“I don’t want a kid coming to school just to go to work,” he said. “And I definitely don’t want a kid to come to school to flip hamburgers. I don’t mean anything against McDonalds, but that’s not the skill level we’re reaching for.”

Greensburg’s training center and Hunter’s conversion illustrate a broader rethinking of vocational education throughout Indiana.

In the coming months, under a mandate from Gov. Mike Pence and the Legislature, high schools will refocus on what is now called “career and technical education,” and redirect millions of dollars toward preparing students for higher skilled, more demanding, better paying work.

They must move fast. In just six years nearly two-thirds of the jobs in Indiana will require training beyond a traditional high school diploma, according to the Indiana Career Council. But just a third of the adult workforce has any post-secondary education.

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