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Tracking enrollment, job placement and the business of vocational schools

trade school

By Flickr user COD Newsroom

There’s a story I’ve been watching for since about July, but if anyone’s written it at the local level, I’ve missed it:  How is enrollment – and more to the point, job placement after graduation – faring at technical, trade, career and vocational schools?

For one thing, they’re an alternative for the 40 percent of so of high school grads who don’t go on to college, according to a U.S. Department of Education report released Monday.  (Here’s the link to the release on the  State of the States in Education report; it offers some interesting demographic info but inexplicably continues to focus post-secondary data on colleges and universities only.  And warning; the report itself is a jumbo Power Point download.)

Those schools have a business presence in your community, from the cosmetology institute run by hair salon owners to the electrician’s apprentice program operated by electrical trade unions.  How are they doing, themselves, as financial entities, and what are students and grads getting for their tuition payments.  You can approach it as a business story, a personal finance piece and even from the employers’ point of view. Who turns out the best prospective employees in a given field?

Aside from options for cash-strapped high-school grads, retraining for adults who need a new skill or trade has been one large facet of the ongoing poor jobs market story, and one target of a heck of a lot of state and federal funding. Just Monday, for example, the U.S. Department of Labor announced another $500 million for community college programs aimed at helping ‘dislocated workers who are changing careers.’ 

The DOL has published a list of grantees by state and the release notes that”These grants are part of the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training initiative, for which the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act included a total of $2 billion over a four-year period.” 

And that’s just one of many DOL programs, let alone the funding coming from other state and federal agencies.  This USA Today article from earlier this year says American taxpayers are spending $18 billion a year on 47 programs run by nine different agencies.   This recent New York Times article about overhauling retraining programs has even pithier caveats and examples. 

 We’re far enough along now that some of those retrainees who opted for EMT school, or cosmetolgoy, or welding or cooking as their new occupation must have finished or be near to finishing the requirements for their new credentials.  How’s that working out for them? 

Not so well for cooking-school students suing a for-profit chain that runs a string of culinary institutes, according to this August article, “For-profit education company inflated job placement rates,” from CaliforniaWatch.

Call me skeptical, but I bet grads of other programs aren’t finding themselves in hot demand, either.  This recent Bloomberg BusinessWeek report, “Can retraining give the unemployed a second chance,”  paints a rather gloomy picture of the job-retraining scene.  One angle you can localize is that of the skills gap — or why open positions go begging even as millions of unemployed are willing to take any job for a paycheck.  Talk with local employers in the most minute detail possible about what they need — what sort of degrees are they looking for in applicants?  Technical skills?  Specialty credentials, languages, certification on equipment or procedures?   What exactly are they not seeing in current applications and why do they think that is?  I.e., is it a function of educational programs?  Lack of experience?  Obsolete skills or work habits?  What?

 

About the Author

Veteran financial writer Melissa Preddy served as a business writer, editor and columnist for The Detroit News from 1995 to 2008, is a Michigan-based freelance journalist. She now works as a writer and editor for a medical research unit of the University of Michigan Medical School. Follow her daily posts. | E-mail: Melissa Preddy

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