Today's "Trade and Industrial" Revolution

By Roberts, Katharine M. | Vocational Education Journal, May 1996 | Go to article overview

Today's "Trade and Industrial" Revolution


Roberts, Katharine M., Vocational Education Journal


Those who prepare youth for careers in the traditional "trades" need fresh tools to meet new demands of business and industry

Trade and industrial education. The backbone of voc ed. Those folks who first created partnerships with business, who helped build and uphold skill standards in many industries, whose graduates always have been craftspeople welcomed by business and industry.

That is, until the 1980s. Then the rules changed. Graduates of high school trade and industrial programs now must fight harder for fewer jobs that often end in a year or two. They find themselves doing more diverse, complex tasks on the job, often with no clear-cut further education or training provided to upgrade their skills. And even before they face this unpredictable marketplace, they often must succeed in trade and industrial education programs that require them to master a panoply of skills, technical and otherwise,but can afford ot offer only a few hours in the lab.

Is trade and industrial education under the gun in the 1990's? Yes, say not only businesses, unions and policy makers, but also educators and administrators themselves.

A fluid U.S. economy has put more than a little damper on what mny call "traditional voc ed"-the programs that offer specific skill training for students who want to work more with their hands in such trades as construction, automotive and manufacturing.

Demand in several of the traditional trades, such as masonry and machine setting, is predicted to decline through 2005, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. U.S. job market forecasts do show impressive employment growth in hightech occupations-such as technicians who provide assistance to engineers, scientists, physicians and other professionals; operators and programmers of technical equipment; and mechanics, installers and repairers of cars, computers and industrial equipment. Trade and industrial education embraces at least some of these occupations, although most now require further education at the postsecondary level. A high school vocational education that used to be enough to secure a good entry-level position in the trades is no longer a sure ticket.

The changing job market, with an attendant increase in academic credits required for high school graduation, is shrinking secondary trade and industrial education programs. On the flip side are opportunities to deliver new programming-if trade and industrial educators agree to keep their fingers on the pulse of a business world that changes every nanosecond.

Brave, new business world

The bywords of the late 1980s and early '90s-global competition, downsizing, reengineering-describe a reality in the workplace that is good and bad. Leaner, meaner businesses mean productivity is higher, workers are more efficient and U.S. exports are growing. For real people-workers and potential workers-these economic gains may seem irrelevant. Real wages in most industries are either stagnant or declining and layoffs continue at a marked pace, especially in blue-chip companies like AT&T, which had in past years employed workers throughout their lifetimes. For today's worker, that can translate into minimal job security and earning potential.

Experts hope, of course, that real wages will grow as these more efficient businesses begin to make more profits. But that won't necessarily mean proportionally more jobs in the trade and industrial sector of the economy. The U.S. Labor Department projects that job openings in many traditional "precision production, craft, and repair" occupations-particularly those in the manufacturing sector of the economy-will either grow very slowly or even decline between now and 2005.

(See the "Projected Employment Change/Selected Trade and Industrial Occupations" chart on page 26.) A Fortune magazine article lists the following among its "20 Worst Industries for Jobs": aircraft and parts; computer hardware; women's clothing manufacturing; electronic components; machinery wholesalers; masonry, stonework and plastering; and steel mills.

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