Touted as a launching point for well-paying jobs and an educated workforce, industry leaders and administrators from the Santa Maria Joint Union High School District met Thursday in Orcutt to brainstorm possible partnerships to benefit the development of Career Technical Education (CTE) programs.
"For so long our high schools were operating on their own ... working without any input, guidance or alignment from the colleges, university, our community or industry," Career Technical Education Grant Coordinator LeeAnne McNulty said. "We know now that we've got to stop doing that. We really need to break down those silos and start teaming together ... so everyone can operate on a higher level.
Over the past decade, state and local educators have worked in consultation with industry professionals to transform vocational education classes into a viable path to well-paying jobs in the modern workforce. Board of education member Jack Garvin said over that time, the district has gone from disbanding vocational programs to investing in their development.
"There's been a real acknowledgement by our teaching staff that even though academics have a wonderful place in our lives, some students really take advantage of vocational education," he said. "With our valley involved with viticulture and agricultural operations, there is a tremendous need out there for mechanics, carpenters [and other occupations.]"
Since 2013, Santa Maria high schools have restructured their career and technical education programs and course offerings to conform to pathways and standards adopted by the state Department of Education. Agriculture and engineering, health science and medical technology and business and finance programs (among other offerings) have sprouted up at Santa Maria High School, with even more in development.
McNulty describes the new courses as a "symbiotic relationship" between business and education. Each pathway, she explained, is developed in consultation with projections of future labor needs compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The goal: to cultivate a local workforce capable of meeting the growing employment needs of Santa Maria Valley businesses.
"The college path isn't for everyone," said Kyle Rizzoli, general manager for Rizzoli's Automotive, "and I think people forget there are very good, well-paying jobs in trade. You don't have to have thousands of dollars in debt from a college in order to find a career."
According to Rizzoli, the family company has supported similar career and technical education programs at San Luis Obispo High School, Cuesta and Hancock colleges by serving in an advisory capacity. Last year, the business began an apprenticeship program for local graduates and early career automotive technicians.
"Even in our industry, we've found it's getting harder and harder to find qualified technicians," he said, "so it's actually best to build our own. This program ties directly into that — we give them a path to a real career."