Educating a workforce

There is a kid that lives near me and I feel he will never graduate from high school, or at least walk the aisle with low grades and a lack of experience for the world that awaits him. He’s a great kid and deserves better.

A hard worker, this guy doesn’t know what he wants to be. That is hard for me to understand, because as far back as I can remember I was playing in the dirt. That dusty-clay-play ingrained in my little brain that I wanted to push dirt around when I grew up.

Once I began working it was on a construction crew, although all I did was sweep out apartments before the hardwood floor was laid. Yeah, hardwood, oak, from an oak tree, sanded and finished smooth and shining. But I knew I would move onto something better. Every bit of plaster that I scraped from the floor put me closer to my goal – pushing clay around to make streets with my hands.

By the time I was in college, my summers would include working on a carpentry crew for Eddie Wilbers. He built about four or five houses a year. Probably because our crew was so slow.

But I was closer to what I wanted to be; I had pinned it down – an architect. By the time I was heading toward graduation. I was sidetracked. I was struggling with paying tuition, so I enrolled in a work study program and went to work between classes, as a draftsman. I drew industrial equipment layouts.

I was the prize employee of Griffin Industries and I made mounds of cash at $3.50 an hour. That may not sound like a lot these days and it wasn’t a lot back then either. After I paid for what I needed with a side job to boot, I quit. I enjoyed the work, after all, it was similar to the work my goals had sent me to all my life. I decided that drawing and designing was better than beating 2 x 4s together. But oddly, I enjoy that today.

But what would I do if I wanted to learn how to bang 2x4s together today; build houses; design floor plans or do plumbing. A friend of mine that lives in Australia teaches culinary arts. He has a bachelors degree but it’s not required to teach cooking.

Another friend who lives in the same country comes to the United States each Christmas time to build and install model railroads. They are all made very artistically from willow branches and other organic materials. His handy work can be seen each year at the United States Botanical Garden, on the Capitol Grounds. He works with little towns, little bridges, not so little Eiffel Tower and Statue of Liberty; a huge layout. See it online at

How did David end up in culinary arts? How did Colby end up crafting such amazing displays? Why is my son a high paid mechanic or his friend manage an apartment complex because he’s and HVAC expert? How do they figure out what they want to be? Do you think it’s because schools in Chesterfield push students in the direction of a college diploma?

My little buddy who lives near me doesn’t know what he wants to be when he hits the workforce. Why? Because no one told him there are other options than college or preparing for college.

Colonial Heights has one high school and one vocational/tech school. Now there’s and opportunity for a student to decide what he wants to be.

Chesterfield has 11 schools and one vocational/tech school (possibly part of a school in Midlothian  will be vo/tech. OK, one-and-a-half tech schools for over 16,000 high school students.

Even the website features students at microscopes, chess games, examining butterflies and best in class caps and gown. The high-school curriculum lists: High School Resources as College Fair; New Graduation Requirements; Extracurricular Activities/Clubs; Senior Handbook and Virginia High School League Rules.

Alternative classes in mechanics, plumbing, electrical work, culinary arts, drafting, cosmetology, carpentry and so on. Some of the classes would require addition training such as college – not finishing the job.

Classes are available in the trades but how many are on the waiting list to get in with only two vo/tech schools available?


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