Some call it an “Ah-ha” or “eureka” moment, others an epiphany. It is that memorable point of clarity, when the realization dawns, “This is what I was made for.” According to Janice Scholz, who oversees one of the most strategic and increasingly popular series of programs within Brevard County Schools, the CTE or Career and Technical Education program, that realization is something she wants for every student.
Scholz, who began her education career in the late 1970s, is passionate about giving students exposure to the tools, the opportunities and the real-world experiences, which would not only bring that awakening and the fulfillment that goes with it, but also meaningful employment. For Scholz personally, that connection happened in a home economics class, the forerunner of what is now offered as culinary arts or fashion design and merchandizing. Teaching, and in particular, teaching practical and applicable life skills, became a passion.
Fast forward and today America and Brevard County are in desperate need, not for many of the majors offered in our colleges and universities, but for welders, machinists and skilled technicians. These careers can and do command salaries comparable to or well beyond what many who have university degrees are able to command. And the need keeps growing.
The challenge Scholz faces are the common and often antiquated perceptions of these alternative pathways to career success, which are based on 20th, not 21st century work environments. Welders are needed at Blue Origin and SpaceX, machinists at Embraer and Knight Armament, where they work in meticulously clean, air- conditioned facilities, often using cutting edge robotic and computer equipment.
“It’s very hard as a parent to say, ‘My child’s going to be a machinist,’ or ‘My child’s going to be an automotive technician,’ because that doesn’t align with the American Dream that we want more for our children. Somehow, we’re measuring the success of raising our children on them getting a four-year degree, but nowhere do we talk about the four-year degrees that lead to no employment and unprecedented debt. We need other choices for our students, but we also need parents to accept these choices as equally viable measures of success,” she added.
The CTE program includes specific academies, accelerated programs, industry certifications and other pathways to success that do not necessarily include going to college or university immediately upon high school graduation.
According to Scholz, few students graduating from high school know what they want to do with their life. Therefore, based on her experience, how fair is it to expect them to make that monumental choice with little or no exposure to the plethora of opportunities out there?
“Many of the great careers waiting for high school graduates do not require a college degree,” Scholz explained. “In fact, a growing number of companies don’t want the degree, they want certifications, like for computer programing.” These certifications can lead to immediate employment, with unprecedented growth opportunities, as new certifications are earned.
“There was a time,” Scholz said, “when academic underachievers were told to go to the auto mechanics class. Today, you can’t get a job working on automobiles unless you have very sophisticated computer skills.”
Not only has the skill level increased, but just like America began to recognize almost 20 years ago that we had a critical shortage of nurses, the need for technicians and skilled workers is reaching critical mass. The availability to find everything from plumbers and to electricians, to an advanced manufacturing workforce, is becoming the governor that is regulating economic growth and America’s global competitiveness.
Janice Scholz is bringing all her skills, charm and experience to bear on this critical issue right here on the Space Coast.