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CUTBACKS PUT ROADBLOCKS IN CAREER PATHS.

Byline: Lisa M. Sodders Staff Writer

After taking construction classes at North Hollywood High School, Jose Santillan, 16, of Panorama City has several potential career paths mapped out after graduation.

He could become a general contractor. He could work construction jobs. Or he could work construction jobs to help pay for college - where he would study to become an architect or an attorney.

``My favorite subject is math, and (construction and math) go together,'' he said.

But Santillan is one of a dwindling number of Los Angeles students in on-campus vocational-education programs.

During the past seven years, state records show that nearly 30 percent of general-fund vocational-education classes have been cut from Los Angeles public high schools amid budget and space constraints, a shifting focus in public education and state and federal pressure to improve academic test scores.

About 55,610 students took vocational classes at Los Angeles Unified School District high schools this year, compared with 70,000 who took such classes in the district's adult and career education division, said Alan Helfman, LAUSD's marketing adviser for the division.

That decline at the high school level, where the district board also recently approved expanding the mandatory college-prep curriculum, is prompting growing concern among leaders in business and industry about a future shortage of skilled workers in vocations ranging from construction to nursing.

``What we've set up, inadvertently, is that if you're not going to go on to college, there is no path for you to go into a career path,'' said Bruce Ackerman, president and chief executive of the Economic Alliance of the San Fernando Valley.

As on-campus classes have decreased, some have shifted to community colleges or the district's adult education division, which had a 9 percent increase in high school students last year but runs most of its programs off-site at 10 adult education centers and other locations.

``We used to have vocational education classes in junior high school, and little by little, we started closing them up,'' said LAUSD board member Julie Korenstein.

``I think it kept the kids in school,'' she said about vocational education. ``It was exciting. It was hands-on, and it gave them an idea of the future.''

Many in business and industry agree, saying the high school-based programs were a key way to recruit future skilled employees.

Some high schools still have pre-apprenticeship programs, but the Los Angeles Plumbers Union Local 78 now mainly draws apprentices from trade-technical college, said Douglas Marian, business representative for the union.

``Not having those classes (at high schools) has definitely had an impact on getting qualified people,'' Marian said.

``We also get walk-ins - people who are interested, but they're really green, and they don't know if they're going to like it or not,'' Marian added. ``Two, three months down the road, they quit and drop out, or they have trouble in the (apprenticeship classes) because they didn't know it took this much math.''

Los Angeles school officials acknowledge the need for skilled workers and are hoping to reinvent traditional vocational-technical classes into courses that propel students onto a high-tech, high-paying career path that includes college or that can help pay for college.

``The district, in many cases, has not kept up with the changes in technology and the changing job markets in America,'' said Bob Collins, LAUSD chief instructional officer for secondary schools. ``In the 1950s and 1960s, 65 percent of the jobs were unskilled in America: routine factory jobs. Now 65 percent are skilled positions, and you need further training.''

To that end, Collins said he will give the LAUSD board a plan in October to overhaul career technical education, targeting high-demand, high-paying career pathways in 15 areas, including arts, media and entertainment technology; building trades and construction; finance and business; engineering and design; marketing, sales and service; and health science and medical technology.

The programs would be integrated with traditional academic subjects, Collins said, reflecting the demand for highly skilled workers.

``The term 'vocational education' is pretty much gone,'' Helfman said. ``It's career technical education. It's not a pretentious change. The trades just operate at a much higher level of technology than before. There's no such thing as a 'grease monkey'; you walk into Lexus, and they're wearing white lab coats. It's an entirely different world.''

Still, there are lingering concerns among some parents that minority students could get automatically steered onto a vocational career path that is not as prestigious as the college route.

Alberto Retana, director of organizing for the Community Coalition who co-chairs the A-G Alliance, said parents simply want their children to have a choice. The alliance backed the district's recent adoption of a college-prep curriculum that university admissions officers call ``the A-G requirements.''

Often, he said, choices are not always available at certain schools.

As recently as 2000, Fremont High School had nine cosmetology classes and only four chemistry classes. ``And what we found,'' he said, `` was many of our students were tracked into cosmetology when the chemistry class was full.''

The school now has more A-G classes, but Retana said the district needs to ensure career technical paths lead into high-growth, high-pay areas like nursing.

But Helfman said it's no longer a matter of college or trade.

``Almost any of the careers in career technology education have at least an associate's degree counterpart, and many of them have a bachelor's degree,'' Helfman said.

The adult education program can train students to become licensed vocational nurses, ``and 96 percent of LVNs go on to become RNs, and you don't have to flip hamburgers to go to college; you can make $22 an hour (as an LVN) while working on your RN.''

Lisa M. Sodders, (818) 713-3663

lisa.sodders(at)dailynews.com
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Statistical Data Included
Date:Jul 25, 2005
Words:952
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