At some point, public schools in California fell in love with the idea that all students would, or at least should, graduate from four-year colleges.

Local school districts often adopted college preparation guidelines, often disparaging vocational training classes to prepare students for useful and often lucrative real-world jobs.

It goes without saying that not every student has the aptitude and interest to pursue a high school diploma for four or more years, but the Education Office treats those who are not college-minded as second-class citizens.

One reason: it is much less stressful for teachers and counselors to tell parents that their children could be lawyers or doctors than to say that they are better suited and happier to be auto mechanics or construction workers.

Over time, this attitude contributed to a very high dropout rate and robbed California of the professionals it needed to function.

All the political noise in solving the chronic shortage of housing in California means nothing if, for example, we don’t have enough carpenters, plumbers, electricians and other qualified construction workers.

Political officials belatedly realized that college politics was shortsighted and cruel for everyone. Vocational training has been renamed “Career and Technical Education” (CTE) and is experiencing a renaissance at high schools as well as at community colleges.

The Public Policy Institute of California, which has tirelessly highlighted the economic threat posed by the looming shortage of well-educated and trained workers, states in a recent bulletin that “California lawmakers have made large government investments – overall more than $ 1 billion in the past five years – to support and expand vocational training. As the primary provider of vocational training in the state, the California Community College system has received numerous investments in this area, and the creation of the “Strong Workforce” program has created an ongoing source of funding to continue this work. “

Community colleges were involved and responded to the needs of employers and job seekers as CTE was downgraded and / or eliminated at many high schools.

Some high schools jump back into the game, but it is a difficult task because providing CTE is expensive and often requires special buildings and equipment, and instructors must be both qualified and able to obtain state teaching certificates.

CTE’s potential to change lives is illustrated in a recent article on events in Fresno and other communities in the San Joaquin Valley with high unemployment and poverty, as well as a high school where mechanics are taught.

“On a school day in Fresno, Fernando Valero repaired a £ 32,000 diesel truck with failed sensors,” wrote Fresno Bee reporter Cresencio Rodriguez-Delgado in an article for California Divide’s media collaboration. “Then he crawled under another truck before lifting it up with a jack. The morning homework made his hands go black with fat.

“And his day was just beginning.

“After lunch, Valero left Duncan Polytechnical High School and went to a job where he is paid as a regular employee. Similar to the classroom, he works with technicians who repair trucks for local customers.”

Rodriguez-Delgado found that 45% of Fresno Unified School District students are enrolled in CTE classes, including medicine, manufacturing, and heavy duty trucks. The paths expose students to real work in industry, and some, like Valero, find work in school. “

Students who have the desire and the ability to acquire a four-year degree should be prepared for it. But those with different interests and skills should be supported and encouraged for them and for us alike.

CalMatters is a nonprofit journalistic company dedicated to explaining how the Capitol state of California works and why. More stories from Dan Walters can be found at calmatters.org/commentary