Apprenticeships, Vocational Education Have Growing Appeal

Olympic High School’s new vocational-focused program may represent the future of other schools in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District, as well as schools around the country.  The school is influenced by the European apprenticeship model that closely connects K-12 schools, community colleges and private employers.

Ann Doss Helms from the Charlotte Observer reports that the one size fits all four year college experience may not be beneficial to many students in reality. A program such as the one Olympic High School can offer students a promising, well paid career right out of school instead of accruing debt from a college education that may not interest or serve them well in the long-run.

 “ Pathways to Prosperity,” a 2011 report from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, spelled out the challenge: America’s current approach to academics is not only failing the students who drop out of high school. Almost half the students who graduate and enroll in a four-year college leave without a diploma, the report notes. For minority and low-income students, even fewer finish college.

Three out of five of Olympic’s small schools offer career academies which include advisers form private industry who helped create classes to prepare students for jobs. For example, the Math and Science school gets help from Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas, and Siemens Energy to create a curriculum based around energy and engineering.

Private employers offer summer internships for these high school students and pull from that group to fill apprenticeship positions. The apprentices earn $9-10/hr. including the time they spend finishing high school and attend the local community college. The companies closely evaluate the students to see if their skills and work ethic are suitable enough to justify paying their tuition at Central Piedmont Community College after graduation.

Not only do students benefit from this program, but the employers do as well. It can be difficult to find workers to simply start work and be proficient at their job, and apprenticeships are a way to recruit and develop talent.

“The skills we need have been lost,” said Mark Rohlinger, who works in technical plant management in Charlotte. “The hands-on, practical stuff really makes or breaks people here.”

Another benefit to these partnerships is that the students have access to equipment that schools would not be able to afford. Instead of schools trying to raise the funds to build expensive machine labs, students have the opportunity to go to the employers and gain real life — and marketable — experience.