February 02, 2023

Rural Issues: Vocational education opportunities

On a rare cooler summer evening earlier this month, from my lawn chair on the concrete pad outside our barn, I watched my new 10-year-old friend do cartwheels, roundoffs and back handsprings. I asked her if she was going to be a cheerleader.

Coming up from a back walkover, the pretty, little freckle-faced girl said matter-of-factly, “No. I’m going to be a diesel mechanic.”

“I meant a high school cheerleader,” I said. “Tell me more about being a diesel mechanic.”

She explained to me that since she was 3 years old she has wanted to be a mechanic and her dad told her about how diesel mechanics work on tractors and trucks and even boats and she thought that would be more interesting. Her mother smiled and shook her head in agreement.

At 10 years old very few people know exactly what they want to be “when they grow up” and realize that dream as an adult.

There are so many opportunities in plumbing, auto mechanics, heating and cooling, welding, pipefitting, carpentry, heavy equipment operation, insulation installing, landscaping and painting.

Careers in the trades are numerous and needed. We need HVAC installers, machinists, locksmiths, mechanical installers, sheet metal workers, elevator mechanics, paving equipment operators, metal fabricators, bricklayers, line installers and repairers, ironworkers, drywallers, concrete finishers and so much more.

Many young people are introduced to trades through a vocational education program in high school. Forty years ago, I had options: auto mechanics and industrial technology, and agriculture departments offered a variety of classes from freshman through senior year.

Although encouraged to stay on the college track so prerequisites were covered, there was still opportunity for vocational education.

That was not the case everywhere. In many schools, traditional college prep courses in biology, chemistry, math, history and literature were pushed while vocational education was almost looked down upon.

Technology has changed much in four decades, including creating many new and different jobs in both the “white collar” and “blue collar” working worlds. Technology has opened the door for the use of new tools and the need for new skills in those traditional college prep courses, as well as in vocational education.

A four-year degree is the right choice for many people. But it’s not the right choice for everyone.

Not everyone is going to be a doctor, lawyer, nurse, investment banker, securities trader or architect. And not everyone is going to be a concrete finisher, plumber, ironworker or truck driver.

There are plenty of career fields out there in need of skilled workers. There is also a great need for skilled educators at every level.

Without quality teachers, we do not have quality educational opportunities, where they are teaching you quantum physics or how to weld.

The future diesel mechanic starts fourth grade later this month along with a brother and sister that round out the set of triplets. Their older brother will go into seventh grade.

I hope Miss Delaney and her siblings are given every opportunity to learn, whether the subject is chemistry, diesel engine diagnostics or animal science.

Cyndi Young-Puyear

Cyndi Young-Puyear

Cyndi Young-Puyear is farm director and operations manager for Brownfield Network.