Vocational education is alive and well. It just looks differently than it used to.
So do the students.
“Back when I went to school, vocational education was a dumping ground for kids who didn’t fit in anywhere else,” said Ken Hamel, an instructor at Yuba County Career Preparatory Charter School in Marysville, Calif. “But we’ve seen an increase in students who want to learn something.
The Collectors Foundation is helping high school auto-tech programs include an emphasis on classic car restoration and engine repair. And the timing couldn’t be better. The President’s Council of Economic Advisors reports that the jobs of tomorrow are in nursing, construction, plumbing – and auto mechanics
Hamel, in his eighth year as an instructor at Yuba County Career Preparatory, said Yuba has 500 total students, and they are required to take academic courses that California stipulates for high school graduation. The automotive program currently has 24 students, but Hamel expects that number to double with the addition of another automotive class.
“Every year we change our curriculum a little,” he said. “We’re never satisfied. The students love it – we’re jam packed.”
Hamel said the Collectors Foundation has been “a huge help,” and Yuba has used the grants provided by the Foundation to purchase welders and an air compressor system. Local auto shops have also joined in, offering students apprenticeship opportunities. “The restoration and hot rod stuff that we do is kind of like icing on the cake.”
Berks Career and Technology Center has a larger auto program than Yuba, but the schools have a similar goal: to encourage students to reach higher. One group of students is customizing a 1937 Chevy Roadster pickup with a 401 cubic inch Buick “Nail Head” engine. Another is working on a ’66 Mustang.
“Our ultimate goal for the program is to show the (finished) vehicle, promote the school, promote the program and promote the partnership we have with the Collectors Foundation,” said Assistant Principal Erik Damgaard. “The Collectors Foundation, through its focus on restoration, gives students an opportunity to gain skills they might not have otherwise,” Damgaard said. “Now there’s an interest in restoration as a career goal.”
“Vocational education won’t ever go away,” he added. “Some programs may evolve, but we’ll always need mechanics and plumbers and masons and carpenters.”
Yuba’s Hamel agreed.
“Vocational tech is no longer a place to land,” he said, “it’s a place to learn.”