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Another Voice: Student preparation concerns are stubborn problems

By Albert J. Pautler

A recent Buffalo News article about the Northland Workforce Training Center raised several questions and concerns about our education system and preparation for employment.

As a retired high school teacher of industrial arts, and university professor of vocational education for 43 years, I ask if we have been doing the job of preparing youth and adults for employment? This, of course, applies to the total educational system, academic and vocational.

We can trace historical vocational education to the Smith-Hughes Act of 1917. My adviser at UB was Gerald Leighbody, who during World War II was with the Buffalo board of education and was involved with the vocational program and preparing workers for the defense industry.

In Western New York we have an education system including school districts, the Buffalo School Board, BOCES and community colleges available to prepare students for employment. In addition, other groups also prepare students for work. We do have a delivery system in place, so what is wrong ?

In the Northland article were such quotes as “he scored below the level of a high school sophomore” and “70 percent of 600 people who tried to enroll ... couldn’t pass the test.”

These issues seem to be the very same as during the Manpower Development and Training Act of 1962, and Comprehensive Employment and Training Act of 1973, as well as Job Corps (1964) for the 16-24 age group. So it appears that the same issues of remedial school to work issues remain from past years.

The issues addressed in my books – “High School to Employment Transition” (1994), “Winning Ways: Best Practices in Work-Based Learning” (1997) and “Workforce Education Issues for the New Century” (1999) – seem to still exist today in workforce preparation.

It appears that for one reason or another many people fall through the cracks in the process of school to school or school to work transition. Perhaps it is an issue for the educational system or for the individuals in the system (students or clients).

School transition theory implies that students exit school in several ways: some to more schooling; some to employment; some to the military; others to the pool of the unemployed. It is that last group that perhaps falls through the cracks in the system.

So not much appears different in the last 50 years of workforce preparation. Some individuals for one reason or another will need remedial support to obtain the academic and vocational skills to be successful in today’s workforce.

Should the blame be placed on the educational preparation system, the economy, the demands of the workplace, or the individuals that fall through the cracks?

Albert J. Pautler is an emeritus professor in vocational education from the University at Buffalo.

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