February 2018 Column

The goal of a high-school education is to prepare graduates with college and career skills.  Over the course of time, I believe the educational pendulum has swung exceedingly in favor of the collegiate pathway.  This has led society to have a labor force with deficient vocational expertise.  Over the next ten years an estimated 2.7 million skilled jobs will be available while an additional 700,000 will be added due to natural job growth.  Yet two million of those jobs are expected to go unfilled due to a lack of qualified work force.  These are jobs that pay a graduate of an apprenticeship an average starting salary of $50,000.

The shortage of a skilled labor work force is one that could have been avoided.  In the 1990s, Australia saw a similar problem with its public education system. There was a shortage of blue-collar workers due to college-prep emphasis in high school.  Australia was forced to pay linemen from various countries full airline round trip tickets and one year free rent due to the labor shortage.  The Australian government implemented a plan to instill vocational programs back into their public school courses.  Each community embraced a program that trained youth with skill sets allowing them to become gainfully employed in their community. Examples still exist in South Australia. Cowell students manage an oyster farm and turn a large profit by selling the oysters in the Asian market. Cleve owns a farm managed by students with the latest technological farm equipment, sponsored by John Deere. Quorn refurbishes trains. Eyre High School, located in an agricultural area, features a veterinarian.

The United States is on a similar path that is avoidable.  Higher education has eliminated several teaching fields directly related to vocational education.  It will take several years to retool our vocational programs in four year institutions to meet the current demand.  In the meantime, high school students are missing out on opportunities to develop job skills that would make them employable immediately after high school or junior college. 

Hobbs has a unique opportunity to be a leader in the Career Technical Education pathway.  The growth of the energy industry is  prompting a search for applicants.  If Lea County could coordinate its resources, we could provide the workforce to strengthen our economy.  Ultimately, Lea county needs to provide a vocational school where students can achieve certificates and step into apprenticeships.  Personally, I would like Hobbs to embrace the concept due to growth of our student population.  HMS has grown by 1,000 students in the past five years with a projection of the number to exceed 11,000 by 2022.  Hobbs will have to make a very difficult decision about whether to build a new high school or expand Hobbs High - which is already the largest high school in the state.  A vocational high school could provide relief for Hobbs High while allowing students to compete in activities under one umbrella. The vocational school could also bring skilled workers to our business partners as they expand production in our thriving economy. We plan to have a community conversation regarding vocational education in March.  Please get involved and help us continue to make Hobbs and Lea County a great place to Live, Work and Play.

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