Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Career Programs a Springboard in Mississippi

Rebecca Helmes • rhelmes@jackson.gannett.com • May 26, 2008
Published by the Clarion Ledger

A global economy still needs masons, plumbers and construction workers.

As the high school Class of 2008 picks up diplomas and starts life's next phase, not all graduates will go to college. Job options vary between rural towns and larger cities, and the earning potential tends to be less for a high school graduate than for those who attend college.

But jobs are out there for students who know what they want.

High school career centers offer what many times is students' first taste of work-force training, although the career centers' role has morphed in recent years.

Once places that focused almost exclusively on vocational training for those who weren't seeking higher education, career centers now are used by many students as a springboard for studies at community or four-year colleges, officials say.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 60 percent of graduating high school seniors go to college the following year.

At the Career Development Center in Jackson Public Schools, students in programs ranging from design technology for fashion interiors, culinary arts, early childhood services and education, business and computer technology and technology application all said they were going to further their education.

Thomas Burl, a graduating senior, plans to study computer science in college. Still, he believes his extracurricular work in the Student Technology Exchange Program, where he and students from other school districts learned about Nissan and programming or robotics, gives him experience that many other students don't have.

Melvin Johnson, principal of the JPS Career Development Center, said students who aren't interested in college can enlist in the military or use the technical skills they learned in high school to land jobs.

"It just depends on the child's aspirations if they're not interested in college," Johnson said. "The majority of our kids go on to community college, where they continue their skill training."

In JPS, someone who goes through the cosmetology program can graduate as a licensed cosmetologist and get to work right away.

Other programs require that students take outside cosmetology coursework before they can be licensed.

"We're trying to attach some kind of certification to all the programs," Johnson said. "At that level, they'd be ready for any of those skills-training-type jobs at an entry level."

The Hinds and Rankin county school districts work closely with Hinds Community College on work force development for young people interested in vocational training.

At the Madison Career & Technical Center in the Madison County School District, Principal Aimee Brown said one of the most popular programs at her school is allied health, which includes classes that start preparing students for careers as nurses, veterinarians, doctors or anything else in the medical field.

"For those not going to college, we try to give them, I guess, more opportunities to get out into the community," Brown said about job shadowing or internship experiences.

With Nissan nearby, automotive technology is the second-most popular field for students at her school, Brown said. Other students want to work in their uncle's body shop or have their own oil-change and car-maintenance stations.

But Brown said construction technology is a big class for students who aren't going to college. Students could end up as carpenters, masons, plumbers, electricians or in other related professions.

"That would probably be our biggest area ... where they could go right to work without any extra training," Brown said. "You have to figure out ... what the best thing for each kid is."

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