“The world needs people who can do things.”
So said David Wright, principal of Dauphin County Technical School.
Wright bristles when he hears people use the term, “Vo Tech,” which he believes implies that vocational school is for students who can’t cut it academically.
“The old idea of Vo Tech is it’s a lesser institution,” he said. “We fight against that.”
The actual goal, Wright said, is to give students a quality education and greater career choices, setting “students up to choose what they want, not what’s left for them—not what somebody else says they should do.”
Assistant Director Frank Flamini referenced author and career advocate Kevin Fleming’s video, “Success in the New Economy,” and the “1-2-7 philosophy” when talking about technical education.
That ratio describes the job needs in the American economy. For every job requiring a master’s degree or higher, employers will need two jobs with a bachelor’s degree and seven jobs with an associate degree or certificate.
“The career and tech center really mirrors, very well, the realities of today’s workforce, and we’re proud of that,” Flamini said.
Enrollment capacity at DCTS is 1,050 students, and it receives 600 applications per year, with about 310 slots available yearly. Students leave the school with more than 1,320 hours in their technical field and some type of certificate or licensure, often in industries with high demand for their new skills, such as building construction, electronics, dental assistant and veterinary assistant
Bruce Seilhammer, electrical construction group manager at SECCO, Inc., and past national president of Independent Electrical Contractors, said that the average age of a worker in the construction industry is 54.
“Finding experienced, skilled help is an issue,” he said. “This is the case all over the country. [Technical education] is a fantastic head start.”
That head start begins with places like DCTS’s automotive classroom.
Recently, senior Martin Crowl stood near cars on lifts in various stages of repair.
“Instead of going to a traditional high school, here I can get a skill,” he said.
Crowl’s father attended DCTS and encouraged him to do the same.
Walking through DCTS hallways, one can spot students enrolled in medical arts wearing scrubs and automotive students donning navy tees and pants. In the graphic arts room, I met senior Aislyn Spicer.
“Just being in a tech school is getting their foot in the door,” she said. “In many cases, they don’t need additional education.”
When I spoke with Spicer, she was unsure of her plans after graduation, but felt confident in the skills she was acquiring.
“I have some sort of direction, some general idea of what I want to do, instead of floundering,” she said.
Commercial arts instructor Kevin Cagno pointed out a fiscal reason to consider technical education.
“Some kids find out they like this, but they don’t want to spend the rest of their life doing it,” he said. “They don’t spend $80,000 to figure that out.”
Cagno said that students gain a knowledge foundation and are able to earn four different Adobe certifications in the program
DCTS is equipped to meet the needs of college-bound students, as well, Wright said.
“Students leave fully prepared to go to college,” he said. “There are people who think our school is less academically inclined than it is, that kids who come here aren’t as capable of academic success as kids who go to a traditional school. That’s so far away from the reality of the situation.”
People are surprised to find out that DCTS has advanced placement classes—in some instances, more than its feeder schools.
Flamini quoted author Stephen Covey in describing how DCTS prepares students for success.
“Begin with the end in mind,” he said. “What are you interested in, what are your abilities, what path is best suited to get you where you want to go?”
Some students even end up as teachers at DCTS.
Ryan Liddick, instructor for electrical construction and maintenance, stood outside his workshop recently exchanging friendly banter with fellow educators.
“If it wouldn’t have been for this school, I wouldn’t have graduated from high school,” he said.
He explained that the electrical skills taught apply to many other areas, such as automotive, HVAC, construction and carpentry. Students leave the program with the experience of a two-year apprenticeship.
Changing educational landscapes, a desire for less debt, and increasing demands for technical skills are expanding what students are considering for educational options.
Who should consider a technical education?
According to Wright, the correct question is, “Who shouldn’t?”
Learn more about Dauphin County Technical School at www.dcts.org.