08/22/2012 04:00 pm ET Updated Oct 22, 2012

Hands On: How to Extend the School Year and Create a More Powerful Workforce

Year-round school is an idea that gets bandied about quite often. Discussion centers on closing the achievement gap and letting our school calendar move away from its agrarian past. When The Huffington Post put out a call for ideas on how to spark job creation and encourage training of U.S. workers, my mind went to those summer months that for many students are idle, unproductive periods, which cause September and October to be a game of catch-up to restore students to their previous year's standards.

What I would like to propose is not an extension of school as usual for students in the summer time, but a chance for students to learn beyond the book and work with their hands learning skills and trades previously reserved for vocational school.

In many school districts, those that are lucky to even have a vocational training program, the vo-tech program is considered a last resort stop for students not cut out for traditional education, those "problem" students, and those not on the "college track." This focus deprives students of valuable opportunities to explore their "book learning" in action and deprives our country a skilled workforce.

In extending the school year, vocational training need not steal time from traditional academic subjects, which all agree are required for entry into college. But by adding time to the school year, students could be given the chance to explore valuable hands-on training in the building trades, culinary arts and cosmetology. A future engineer would benefit from building a bench in woodworking classes or wiring a light switch before they engineer a bridge or solar panel grid. A student bound for a career in the arts could certainly benefit from knowing a skill or trade that pays a living wage. A student interested in pre-med can explore the fundamentals of the healthcare at the health care assistant level. All students, no matter of their future career, would gain an appreciation of the trades and an understanding of them, which creates a better, more informed, consumer base. This doesn't even touch on the self-esteem development that stems from learning how to do something concrete and seeing the tangible results of your efforts.

With this type of program, the United States would benefit from an adaptable workforce trained in many modalities. In the short term, jobs would be created in the establishment of a wider vocational training system.

We must stop looking at vocational education as the ugly step-sister to traditional high school and celebrate it as a way to restore the can-do spirit of the American workforce.