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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Building the work-learn path to the middle class

“All throughout high school, they made it sound like going to college was our only option,” says Derrick Roberson, a 17-year-old high school graduate in southern California. Vocational classes were seen as second-class. But he had doubts. “After you go to college, where do you go? It can open doors for you, but not as much as they make it seem.”

The InTech Center in San Bernardino County, located on the campus of California Steel Industries, claims a 100 percent job placement rate for its graduates. Photo: InTech

Roberson is training to be an electrician at the InTech Center, a partnership between manufacturers and a local community college on the grounds of a steel company.

After decades of pushing bachelor’s degrees, California has launched a campaign to promote and improve vocational training, reports Hechinger’s Matt Krupnick.

Thirty million U.S. jobs pay an average of $55,000 per year and don’t require a bachelor’s degree, according to the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce.

Fernando Esparza, a 46-year-old mechanic, is learning industrial computing in hopes of earning a promotion and a raise in pay, writes Krupnick.

At California Steel Industries, where Esparza was learning industrial computing, some supervisors without college degrees make as much as $120,000 per year and electricians also can make six figures, company officials said. Skilled trades show among the highest potential among job categories, the economic-modeling company Emsi calculates. It says tradespeople also are older than workers in other fields — more than half were over 45 in 2012, the last period for which the subject was studied — meaning looming retirements could result in big shortages.

California Steel invested $2 million in the training center because it needs skilled workers, said Rod Hoover, its human resources manager. “The selfish reason was because we needed craft workers and it was inconvenient to send them elsewhere.”

In its new college readiness report, ACT notes that only three in 10 graduates in the class of ’17 earned scores that predict “the foundational work readiness skills needed for 93 percent of the jobs recently profiled in the ACT JobPro® database.”

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