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Education for jobs

Ohio’s 49 career centers, including Penta in Perrysburg Township, can help close the skills gap

  • PentaConstructionCarpentry2015version2-jpg

    A Penta Career Center student uses a circular saw on a project in the school’s construction carpentry program.

    PENTA CAREER CENTER

  • Penta-50th-FINAL-4C-214-jpg

PentaConstructionCarpentry2015version2-jpg

A Penta Career Center student uses a circular saw on a project in the school’s construction carpentry program.

PENTA CAREER CENTER Enlarge

Nearly everyone in Ohio knows that practically all of the good-paying jobs generated by the new economy require more than a high school diploma or GED. What’s often forgotten, though, is that most of those jobs require less than a four-year college or university degree.

Even so, politicians and policy makers, as well as many parents and high school guidance counselors, continue to act as though a bachelor’s degree is the best, or only, option for everyone: Anything less is considered second-rate.

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Such attitudes are outdated and counterproductive. Today’s job market demands greater training for many high-demand, high-skill, and increasingly technical jobs. Moreover, as universities and four-year colleges become increasingly inaccessible and costly, Ohio’s career centers and community colleges provide much-needed access and opportunity, especially to lower and middle-income students. 

Penta Career Center, a career-technical public school in Perrysburg Township, is a case in point. Last Sunday, it celebrated its 50th anniversary and opened its career-technical labs and classrooms to about 1,000 visitors.

Opening in 1965, Penta was the nation’s first multicounty vocational school. Roughly 30,000 people have completed training through either a Penta high school or adult education program.

Penta ranks near the top among Ohio’s career centers for spending its money directly on classrooms. To its credit, the center does not charge high school students for tuition or lab fees — only for uniforms. That’s a commitment to access and affordability that Ohio’s four-year universities should seek to emulate. (See related op-ed column on Page 7.)

“We don’t want to create barriers for students,” Penta Career Center Superintendent Ron Matter told The Blade’s editorial page. Mr. Matter said that for every one job available that requires a master’s degree, there are two jobs open that require a bachelor’s degree — and seven that require more than a high school diploma but less than a four-year degree.

“This is not an anti-four-year-degree message,” he said. “We need to value all kinds of work in this country, and this is where the jobs are.”

Penta now serves high school students in 16 school districts, offering 30 career-technical programs, including welding, cosmetology, construction, health, manufacturing, computer hardware networking, digital video production, business, agriculture, transportation, and human services.

By completing these programs, a high school student can enter the work force upon graduation, though many continue training. Penta also offers continuing education for adults. Career-technical graduates may also continue at a community college or four-year university.

Penta serves 1,400 students on its main campus and nearly 4,000 in high school satellite programs. In 2003, voters from 16 school districts in Lucas, Wood, Fulton, Ottawa, and Sandusky counties passed a 1-mill permanent improvement levy that enabled Penta to build a 522,000 square-foot career center, which opened in 2008.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that roughly 45 percent of all U.S. jobs fall into a so-called skills gap, requiring more than a high school diploma but less than a bachelor’s degree. Even so, only 25 percent of the work force is qualified to perform these jobs.

Ohio’s 49 career centers can help fill that skills gap, with more than 40 secondary programs in skilled trades and other programs. They and Ohio’s 23 community colleges should not be regarded as second-class options, but as an essential investment in Ohio’s economy and people.

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