What are we teaching our kids?

The State of Arizona has just passed a law that a student will not be issued a high school diploma unless they can pass the same Civics test that an immigrant is required to gain citizenship. Why are they doing this? A survey of graduates revealed that only 36% knew there are three branches of government. What does that have to do with construction? It illustrates the lack of attention to basics that infects public school systems throughout the country.

When I was in high school in the mid 60’s, if you were not in the college preparatory program, you were possibly enrolled in a program called Distributive Education (DE), sometimes known elsewhere as Vocational-Technical (VoTec) education where you spent half your school day learning a trade such as carpentry, welding or hair styling. Or, you could be enrolled in classes at the community college taking auto mechanics or auto body repair. And, the high school offered business classes such as typing and shorthand to prepare you to work in an office. Some high schools also offered Jr. ROTC classes to prepare students for a military career. These classes prepared students to be gainfully employed the day after they graduated from high school.

Today, it appears our public schools are turning out graduates that are woefully unprepared to perform an entry level job in construction. They need math. They need to work with fractions. They need to understand geometry. They need to understand shop drawings. They need to be able to read to learn and comprehend OSHA rules and regulations. They need to write legibly in a comprehensible manner so they fill out job reports and time sheets. They need to be able to speak clearly so that co-workers and supervisors can understand.

When I looked at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools website, there is a program called CTE (Career & Technical Education). There are a few courses offered that are applicable to construction: Carpentry, Drafting and Core & Sustainable Construction. There are also some courses listed that are available through CPCC (Central Piedmont Community College.) These coursed are not prominent on the website and I only found them on my second attempt. These courses don’t appear to be promoted or have any outreach or placement programs with employers.

CPCC has a Construction Technologies program at its Harper campus. Several years ago, Steve Corriher instituted a training program to teach the basics of construction. In this case, the basics mean how to use a hammer and read a tape measure. At completion, the class can stick build a storage shed with door, windows, siding, shingles, etc. If this type training was available in high school, students might be ready for a good paying job when they graduate.

These are not dead end jobs. Most people who manage or own construction companies worked their way up through the ranks. In my company, below the corporate office level, people with degrees are in the minority. They have advanced because they work hard, work smart and never quit learning. We can teach someone the specific operations of our industry, but only if they have the basic education that is required to perform the job.