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Lighting Up the Future of Vocational Education

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Written by Kyle Coward

Vocational education in America once provided a clear pathway for students to receive essential skills for valuable technical jobs. However, as high schools nationwide have phased out such curriculum over the years, many youth are now lacking in the abilities needed for such positions.

Additionally, as vocational education continues to diminish, many companies needing highly skilled workers have stopped partnering with school systems to provide training and recruitment services.

This professional quandary has not gone unnoticed by educators and pundits, with Mark Phillips, professor emeritus of secondary education at San Francisco State University, noting in a May 2012 post on the website Edutopia that:

Many of the skills most needed to compete in the global market of the 21st century are technical skills that fall into the technical/vocational area. The absence of excellence in many technical and vocational fields is also costing us economically as a nation.

Any answers to the crisis must simultaneously take into account the needs of schools, students, and employers, all of whom stand to benefit from a strong vocational education/employment relationship. Light Up Your Future -- created in 2007 by regional utility companies and a non-profit online education institution including the Council for Adult & Experiential Learning (CAEL) -- is one undertaking striving to revitalize vocational high school training and the school-to-work pipeline for technical positions.

Offering 15-week online high school courses for elective credit, not only does the program provide written instruction covering the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields, but it also offers hands-on training through internships, and the opportunity to further develop skills with student supervisory duties. Along with providing career panels, utility plant tours, and summer learning camps, Light Up Your Future has become a valuable initiative for technically-inclined students , who might otherwise be at a disadvantage preparing for a vocational career. Light Up Your Future is an innovative career exploration program designed to allow schools with tight budgets to offer high quality STEM education.

The program's interactive nature -- whereby students get to put the skills they have learned into practice -- is quite important, as Light Up Your Future pupils seem to respond positively to it in conjunction with online courses. One of those who can testify to this is Brian Viloria, a graduate of the Academy of Engineering and Green Technology in Hartford, Conn, who previously struggled with school before enrolling in the program.

Along with taking -- and passing -- required online safety courses to intern for Connecticut-based Northeast Utilities, Viloria excelled in hands-on electrical training for the company. Subsequently thriving in additional energy-related online courses and becoming more focused on schoolwork, Viloria increased his GPA, became a student supervisor in the program, and after graduation was accepted into the Marines electrician's program.

Says Viloria, "I had a great experience, and I strongly suggest this program for anyone who is interested in not just a career making money, but to be part of a great company and great learning experience."

Bringing vocational education back to its American heyday will take time. We at CAEL, however, like to think Light Up Your Future can indeed light up the way.

Click here to learn more about the Light Up Your Future program.

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