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COVID-19 crisis shows how vital CTE and trades are to Arizona’s workforce

(Photo by Patrick Jervis/East Valley Institute of Technology)

In this 2018 photo, an East Valley Institute of Technology student  aims a firehose as he is
assisted by two other students in the school’s Fire Science program.  (Photo by Patrick Jervis/East Valley Institute of Technology)

Over the next several weeks and months, Arizona’s business and industry will slowly begin opening their doors in an effort to return Arizona to a new “normal.” Although much will be the same, much will also be different. Change can be challenging and at times scary, but the East Valley Institute of Technology, or EVIT, is committed to educating and training high school and adult learners to help usher in the next chapter of our state’s economy.

Nearly every occupation that EVIT trains students for is proving to be essential during this pandemic. There are the obvious ones on the front lines battling to save Coronavirus patients – nurses, CNAs, health techs, and first responders. But there are others too. Trucks that are delivering medical supplies to our hospitals and food to our grocery stores are maintained by mechanics. Makeshift health facilities are being built and repaired by those who have skills in construction and welding.

Chad Wilson

Chad Wilson

Have you watched or listened to the news every day about what we need to do to stay safe? You can thank those who have communications skills in video, broadcasting and graphic design. And let’s not forget all those masks and ventilators that American machinists and manufacturers are making every day. The skills needed for these jobs come from career and technical education, or CTE.

We also train students for other occupations too that are suffering right now due to closures – cosmetology, aesthetics, massage therapy, childcare, design & merchandising, and culinary arts. But when America reopens, these will be some of the first businesses with a high demand from consumers who want a haircut, a facial, a massage, to put their child in daycare, to go shopping, to eat in a restaurant again — and therefore, those businesses will be hiring again. As tragic as our current reality is, this crisis reinforces the belief that the professions CTE trains people to do are the very backbone of our society.

That’s always been the case, but over the years much has been made of the old either/or college-bound vs. vocational education mentality. For too long, educators pushed students into one lane or the other instead of recognizing the road to success for every student has multiple lanes.

At EVIT, we have a huge range of students. Some have enrolled here as an alternative to going to college. They want to learn skills, earn an industry certification and go to work after they graduate from high school. We also have students who are here because they learn by doing and CTE is incredibly hands-on. Some of our students struggle to have enough credits to graduate, while others juggle honors classes at their high school with attending EVIT for career training.

There are also students who plan from the get-go to come to EVIT so they can earn an industry license, such as Certified Nursing Assistant, and then work as a CNA while going to college to become a registered nurse. There are even opportunities for students to earn college credit while they attend EVIT. The same is true in many CTE classes offered by East Valley school districts.

There is even more value for all students, regardless of their education and career goals, to enroll in a CTE program: They learn to collaborate, problem-solve, and work as a team – those “soft” skills prized by employers and desperately needed in a crisis such as we are experiencing today.

The benefits that CTE offers all kids are too great to be pigeonholed into stereotypes and old stigmas about which students should go to college and which ones should get a job. The unprecedented times we are living in have shown just how vital both pathways are. That’s why at EVIT we focus on changing lives by loving our students and serving our community – because we recognize that everyone has a role in the intricate workforce that makes America great.

Dr. Chad Wilson, Ed.D, is superintendent of the East Valley Institute of Technology, a career and technical education district (CTED) providing career training to high school students and adults in the East Valley.

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