IS VOCATIONAL EDUCATION SAVIOR FOR BLACK YOUTH?

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It is no secret that unemployment among African American youth has been problematic. Black youth have dropped out of schools, and people are frustrated about what to do with this situation. The increasing cost of college is also of great concern. Americans, including African Americans, are leaving college with crippling student loan debt. Moreover, a college education is no longer a guarantee of a satisfying career or even employment.

People should understand that the idea of education is far more than that of just becoming employed. This may seem counter-intuitive, but there are a plethora of soft skills and peripheral concepts that come under the banner of “education.” This is why it is important for our youth to have access to an avenue wherein they can gain knowledge and information that will help them position themselves socially and financially in life after school.

There is a current push to tout vocational education for our youth because they are having issues succeeding in traditional schools and, as pointed out previously, the cost of a college education is so high. On the surface this seems like a good idea. The problem is that the majority of vocational education programs, usually known as trade schools, are offered as post-secondary education. Students must first graduate from high school in order to enroll in trade schools. Though GED programs are available, the challenge here is that even GED programs are more rigorous and expensive than they once were.

Years ago, it was possible to get some vocational training in high school, but many of these programs have been discontinued due to budgetary issues. Moreover, trade schools are often proprietary, and as a result, can be quite expensive. Today, two-year community colleges offer about 30 percent of all credentials in the trades, and these courses are transferable to four-year universities. There are other programs that are available through government operated adult education centers or through military technical training.

The bottom line is that there is no getting around facing rigorous challenges in today’s employment world. Because of the increasingly technical nature of our society, those seeking employment in the future will have to face competition for increasingly technical jobs. A person who wants to enter the field of auto mechanics must now face the computerization of this field. For those who want to go into carpentry or become electricians, a knowledge of mathematics is a prerequisite.

We must face the fact that the world is changing, and the attempt to use vocational education as a substitute for failure in traditional schools is misguided if students are not motivated to learn. The same skills like attention to details, ambition, willingness to learn, and the desire to finish what is started that are needed for success in college are going to be required for success in trade schools.

Other issues to be addressed are drug abuse, which has been an impediment to employment for many of our youth who just can’t pass drug tests; tardiness; the idea of immediate gratification; and a lack of motivation after witnessing the lucrative successes of those who choose sports and entertainment careers. Too many of our youth, especially males, want to be rappers or basketball players.

Ultimately, we must find a way to motivate our students to value education and to help them acquire skills needed to maintain gainful employment. The upside is that high school is still FREE, and grants are available for those who finish successfully. It might be feasible, in this regard, to introduce the concept of “rotations” in high schools wherein students can sample a number of career options before deciding upon a career path. This would mean more funds earmarked for schools toward this end. We must not, however, look upon the trades as a one-size-fits-all proposition, because a student who is not motivated to succeed in regular academic training may not be motivated to apply the energy needed to succeed in the trades. Pushing all unemployed youth in that direction is just applying a Band-Aid to a problem that must be addressed: motivating our youth to learn so that they can succeed in any field that they choose. A Luta Continua.

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