By Tim Ashley
WARSAW — Within especially the last five years or so, the mindset is changing in public education. “It’s way more important for a student to be on course for employment,” said Ronna Kawsky, principal/director of career and technical education at the Warsaw Area Career Center.
Thinking in the past used to be “you need to go to a four year school” after graduation from high school. “You need a skill and not every student needs a four year college degree,” Kawsky said.
Studies have shown several high school graduates enrolled in a college and didn’t make it past their freshman year before dropping out. They were not only saddled with debt, but had no marketable skills either.
Other studies have shown many of the types of jobs that will be available in the next few years are career and technical education related and don’t require a four year college degree, though some type of training after high school will likely be needed. “There is a need for skilled labor,” said Jill Jackson, assistant director of WACC.
At the WACC, which serves the school corporations of Warsaw, Tippecanoe Valley and Whitko, incoming high school freshmen can choose from several different career pathways clusters offered. Those include, among 41 total, agriculture, arts, marketing, information technology, advanced manufacturing, health sciences and human services.
There are also partnerships with some local businesses, such as Global Auto and Inspire College of Cosmetology, where students can get hands-on experience. By the time they are seniors, students are often ready to step into work based learning.
With the career pathways, students still need to pick one even if the expectation is to attend a four year college. While in high school, a student can get up to one year of college credits and “pick up a skill to get a higher level of employment,“ Kawsky noted.
Getting a skill is a huge emphasis at the WACC. Both Kawsky and Jackson stressed it is vital for students to learn a skill and make themselves more marketable for after graduation. About 80 percent of the pathways graduates have technical training already and, for one example, not just automotive in general but even more technical automotive skills.
“When you possess a skill, you are more in control of what you do,” Kawsky said.
Although the mindset has changed within the last five years within school corporations and as far back as about 2010 at WACC, a challenge is to change the mindset of the public. There are still perceptions of manufacturing or similar jobs being in less than desirable conditions or not requiring any skills.
Kawsky and Jackson both emphasized the working environments are different now and, for example, many facilities use filters and the equipment is high tech and more specialized. “Things are very technical now,” Kawsky said. CNC machines need to be coded and programmed, problem solving skills are needed, etc.
“It’s a job for the intelligent and problem solving skills are needed,” Kawsky stressed.
Another point of emphasis is the pay available to students who have technical certifications already upon leaving high school. She noted one example of welders already earning more money than some teachers do. Often if more training is needed, the company will provide it at no charge, she added.
“That’s one way we can get the kids to buy in to this,” Jackson commented. “They can get good pay right out of high school.”
Students are also more likely to embrace career and technical education when they can see they are making a difference, such as with providing a public service or fixing something. That is in contrast to years past when some students would sit in a classroom and wonder if the subject would help at all in their future career.
For more information about WACC, visit www.warsaw.k12.us/wacc or call (574) 371-5074.