Who wants to be an auto mechanic, anyway?
"[The public] not only thinks you're a filthy human being, but also that you make only $20,000 a year," says Stephen Cole, general manager of Baltimore's Luby Chevrolet-Honda Co.
Sure, some mechanics earn only $20,000 a year, but some -- though they do get dirty -- can pull in as much as $50,000 to $60,000 a year, Mr. Cole estimates. And, "there is an ongoing shortage of quality folks to service vehicles," he adds, making mechanics all the more valuable.
Mr. Cole's observations could apply broadly to many of the industrial segments of the economy, which have lost their luster and appeal in this age of white-collar aspirations. Many fields such as construction, plumbing and pipe-fitting, welding, and hotel and motel hospitality go wanting for qualified workers and trainees, according to business and vocational education sources.
In most of the high schools in Baltimore, vocational classes meant to attract and prepare students for these occupations are often underused for a number of reasons, says Robert L. Clink scale, assistant superintendent of Vocational, Adult and Alternative Education.
Some students are unaware of the skills being taught in these classes or the job opportunities upon graduation, Dr. Clinkscale says. Others just aren't interested.
As the nation's attention turns with uncertainty to the question of the technical preparedness of the work force of the future, Baltimore schools, too, are working to get their vocational act together.
According to Dr. Clinkscale, his office is in the midst of preparing its five-year "conceptual framework" for revamping the school system's vocational education program and curriculum.
In a 27-page draft, Dr. Clinkscale identifies changing requirements of the workplace due to advanced technology and shifting economic structure as the underlying motivation to overhaul the current system.
The resulting technical-vocational program will turn out graduates who are academically literate, technologically literate, occupationally aware, employable and prepared for growth and change, the draft promises. As part of the overhaul, each of the city's current
vocational offerings will be scrutinized for their relevance to the demands of the future and ever-changing job market, the thoroughness of the training delivered and potential partnerships be forged with Baltimore's business community.
While not all of the current system needs to be thrown out, "some of these programs may be eliminated, some redesigned," said Dr. Clinkscale. "We want to link these courses with whatever the job market demands."
Dr. Clinkscale's office, with advice from the state-mandated Baltimore City Advisory Council on Vocational Education, will also market its restyled program to parents and students beginning at the kindergarten level.
Luby Chevrolet's Mr. Cole and nearly 30 other local business people and professionals serve on the advisory committee to help the school system keep in touch with the employment needs of local industry.
Despite the uncertainty of the future leadership of the city's school board, vocational education has long been a priority of MayorKurt L. Schmoke, so Mr. Clinkscale anticipates continued support. And though it is part of a school system dogged by cash constraints, Dr. Clinkscale is counting on virtually doubling the vocational education budget with federal funds available following the recent passage of the Vocational Education Bill. This legislation was created to help fund technical courses aimed at student who aren't likely to enroll in four-year
The final plan, after being shared with the local business community, parents and teachers, should be ready for final consideration next month by the school board, Dr. Clinkscale says. The five-year proposal is the beginning, but rebuilding a system that really works is not an easy task, and will take some time, he says.
"We have a lot of things in mind that we want to do," he says. "It's just going to take forever to do, it seems."