Will This Transplant Grow?

Bill is 15 years old and in the tenth grade. He took a step toward a career this year.

Bill is 15 years old and in the tenth grade. He took a step toward a career this year. Based on aptitude tests and his inclination toward math, Bill signed up to go three days a week to the local community college for technical courses. He was counseled to study CNC programming because a number of the shops in his area are planning to add more CNC machines in the next few years.

When he turns 16, Bill will begin co-oping at a local machine shop--which receives a training tax credit for taking Bill on. The community college has already made the arrangements.

Bill's programming courses use the same software and techniques as the shop Bill will work in. In fact, the shop arranged with its machine tool vendor to supply the college CNC simulators. They also give input into ancillary curriculum that's taught. Bill should be able to contribute immediately when he starts work.

When Bill graduates high school at 18, he'll be a year away from national certification as a CNC programmer. If he wants, he can continue to work in the machine shop. Should he decide to move-on, he has transferable certification of his programming skills that allows him to go anywhere and work. At age 19, Bill has a marketable skill and three years experience applying it.

Bill is not an American student. Rather, he represents secondary and post-secondary education systems found in parts of Europe and Asia.

Gary Sihler, president of lathe builder Index Corporation, is among those in this country trying to make it easier for Bill's scenario to be a domestic one. He's an advocate of early vocational training and a seamless integration of secondary and post-secondary technical training.

But key to success is local business helping local schools teach relevant courses. Interestingly, in areas of the country where this has been tried most schools are anxious for the help. In every case though, initiative has come from business.

Sitting back and hoping a school system will suddenly begin training workers with the exact skill sets your business needs won't happen. They can't know unless you tell them.

Can this vo-tech education model transplant here? Probably not verbatim, says Mr. Sihler. But conceptually, it might be a good starting point.