Technology unleashes new opportunties for vo-techs

The jobs are decidely white collar - web designer, CAD/CAM operator, computer animator - but do they require college degrees?

Thirty years ago, vocational technology was all about training the non-college bound for blue-collar jobs—mechanics, welders, secretaries. These days, however, peer into a vocational technology classroom and you'll more likely see students learning web design, robotics, and even nanotechnology, reports Saint Louis Today.

"It used to be that vocational ed was grimy," said Cindy Gagich of Granite City High School, which has a long tradition of job-focused teaching. "But it's shifting. Now it's engineering and Web design. It's training for white-collar jobs."

The changes have even warranted a new name. Federal legislation has officially changed "Vocational Education" to "Career and Technical Education," or CTE.

"With technology, it's absolutely changing," said Gayle Appel, director of instruction at O'Fallon Township High School, in O'Fallon, Ill. "We no longer teach shorthand or office machines — it's all computer-driven. No longer is it drafting with a pencil, it's a computer program. Electronics is now digital electronics."

In recent years, there has been a huge increase in students enrolled in CTE courses across the nation - from roughly 9.6 million to 15.1 million, according to the Department of Education. Educators believe those numbers will climb even higher.

Some educators attribute the jump in enrollment to rising college tuition, coupled with the increased demand for high-skilled jobs that require technical, rather than academic, training.

"I think we send too many kids to four-year-degree schools. Not all jobs require a four-year degree. If a student is content and makes good money, if they're a productive citizen and happy, then why are we pushing them to four-year degrees?" said Cheryl Hood coordinator of the CTE programs in six St. Clair County high schools.