Documentarian and San Jose State sociology professor Bob Gliner worries that career and skills training programs could become a casualty of an era focused on standardized test results.
In his latest one-hour production, “Job Centered Learning,” Gliner, of Boulder Creek, focuses on a nationwide struggle he refers to as a workforce skills gap. In researching the film, he visited high schools in Santa Cruz County, San Jose and Napa, even traveling as far as Massachusetts and Arizona to look at different career-based offerings.
This gap, as the award-winning filmmaker explains, is resulting in a shortage of skilled workers to fill out the ranks of professions not requiring college degrees.
“I think my documentary contradicts the notion that traditional high school teaching techniques are the only viable way to learn traditional subject matter and find viable careers,” Gliner said in a recent interview. “In fact, evidence suggests the opposite — that career technical education classes lead to higher high school retention, better grades and graduation rates, because it makes curriculum come alive for students, engaging them in often life-changing classroom and career-forming educational experiences.”
In the documentary, Watsonville-based Graniterock Vice President Kevin Jeffery described the “biggest crisis ” he is seeing in his heavy civil construction industry as a workforce shortage.
“We’re not getting young people out of school, out of high school, community college or four-year colleges to really meet the demand,” Jeffery said. “Part of that is we’ve got an older workforce, an older skilled-trade workforce in the construction industry, and as folks are retiring, they’re just not being replaced by the younger generation. I think there are a lot of reasons for that, but one of them, I think, is that our high schools in this day and age, they don’t focus on the skilled trade. They don’t focus on the crafts.”
Gliner visits numerous career-techinical high school programs, including the classroom of Emmalee Casillas, an agriculture instructor at Vintage High School in Napa.
“There’s been a stigma, definitely, surrounding all of these labor positions and these blue collar positions, that it’s ‘lesser than,’” Casillas says in the documentary. “Really, what I’m doing as an educator is showing students that we are the base, the rock of our society.”
In California in 2012, the state shifted all ROP (career-technical education) funding sources from a grant model to local district discretionary funding, with two years of bridge funding that ended in June 2015. At that time, Santa Cruz County public K-12 school districts banded together to forge a four-year agreement to allow the $4 million Santa Cruz County Regional Occupational Program to continue overseeing the program while districts pay an increasing portion of the cost each year.
Mark Hodges, senior director for the County Office of Education-governed office, termed that decision a “saving grace” he hopes to see continue after the four years conclude in June 2019. Maintaining more costly programs, such as career technical education courses, has been a struggle for school districts facing budgetary constraints, Hodges said.
“It comes down to, I think, in the end, the value of the program and how it supports students accomplishing their goals in the high school experience,” Hodges said. “I think, in the end here, industry is going to be a huge factor in maintaining career tech ed programs.”
Hodges cited ongoing public-private work experience partnerships, such as with Santa Cruz-based internet service provider Cruzio, and still growing opportunities, such as ongoing talks with Santa Cruz Seaside Co., parent to the Boardwalk.
In the upcoming 2017-2018 school year, San Lorenzo Valley, Scotts Valley and Pajaro Valley unified school districts and Santa Cruz City Schools will contribute 75 percent of their ROP program operating costs, then bear the full burden in 2018-2019.
According to Santa Cruz City Schools Superintendent Kris Munro, employee retirement and healthcare costs have been growing and the state is continuing to add new performance mandates — without a sufficient matching increase in funding.
“Theoretically, we’re getting more dollars, but we’re still not fully funded and the state gave us a whole bunch of other things we have to pay for, in addition to this,” Munro said. “The reality is, our incremental increases are supposed to help us pay for this, but they would never have been enough to cover for the cost of what existing programs were.”
Santa Cruz City Schools’ career technical education courses have remained somewhat protected from increased financial pressure through voter support of 2015’s Measure O, a $72-a-year high school district parcel tax supporting career technical education, among other programs. Measure O revenue keeps the Santa Cruz City Schools career technical programs at a status-quo level for now, but will not account for incremental future cost increases for employees and materials, Munro said.
Munro and other district leaders recently began discussions to decide what role the county ROP program will play in future course offerings, versus what programming each school will offer through its own system.
Gliner’s documentary has begun airing on PBS affiliates across the country, including the Bay Area’s KQED, this month, including an upcoming airing at 7 p.m. Thursday on KQED Life, Comcast 189. Santa Cruz County stations will air the program at 10 a.m. on Sept. 10 at Comcast 10 and 710 HD.