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July 31, 2016

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Vocational schools prepare next generation of laborers

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Steve Marcus

Teacher Scott Fitzgerald talks to students in a paint booth during an Introduction to Auto Collision Repair class at the Southeast Career and Technical Academy in Henderson, Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012.

Southeast Career and Technical Academy

Julien Fontenot, a senior at the Southeast Career and Technical Academy in Henderson, works on a 1957 Chevrolet pick-up truck during a auto repair class at the school Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012. Launch slideshow »

Map of Southeast Career Technical Academy

Southeast Career Technical Academy

5710 Mountain Vista, Las Vegas

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Instead of joining his friends for lunch, Julien Fontenot bends over the back of a truck and continues preparing it for a paint job.

Like many of his peers, Fontenot, a Southeast Career Technical Academy student, is confident the vocational training he’s getting will help him land a job after college despite the tough economic times.

Fontenot, 17, continues his education after school by changing and installing tires at a Discount Tire store. For him, the automotive technology course at the technical academy is just one step in attaining a future career in aerospace engineering.

The economic downturn is hard, he said, but like many students he’s hopeful for a recovery and doesn’t think it will be too difficult to find a job once he’s out of school.

After all, students who do well in the class and get the teacher’s recommendation usually can expect a technician job at car dealership or elsewhere and work their way up from there.

“The future is wide open for (these students),” said Kerry Pope, the academy’s principal.

While automotive students still need to learn the basics like building an engine, the curriculum need to keep pace with the 21st century, Pope said. That means additional instruction in areas like computer technology to supplement students’ education.

But not all areas of vocational education will be needed in an ever-evolving economy. Some programs are being eliminated because jobs in their corresponding industries just aren’t going to exist.

“We aren’t preparing kids for a future they wouldn’t have,” Pope said.

At SECTA, 5710 Mountain Vista St. in Henderson, that meant cutting out the screen printing course. It had high student interest, but low consumer demand for screen print products means fewer jobs in the sector.

Construction-related courses have seen enrollment level off as parents worry if the field is still relevant given Las Vegas’ housing slump. And fewer students are enrolling in cosmetology, unable to afford the equipment.

But interest in other fields, particularly the health sciences, has grown, said Mikela Harris, an admissions counselor for SECTA.

SECTA’s graphics department also expanded to incorporate 3D animation as well as film and game development.

Students at schools like SECTA come from a variety of economic backgrounds, with about half qualifying for free or reduced price lunch.

The school’s students used to come from all across the valley, Harris said. But ever since the Clark County School District restricted bus rides to the school to the Green Valley area, fewer students could afford to make the long drive to Henderson.

About 40 percent of SECTA graduates go on to a four-year college, another 40 percent go to a two-year trade school or community college and 20 percent head into the work field, Harris said.

The school does not keep data on what percentage of students find jobs, but based on feedback she had from alumni on the school Facebook page, the economic downturn does not seem to affect the students’ ability to find jobs, Harris said.

Students who go to college can also help pay for their degree by getting a job on the side that utilizes their vocational training, she added.

For Fontenot, the courses provide a much-needed boost over students in traditional high schools.

“Not many people can do the stuff that a basic kid can do in here,” he said. “We learned how to pull apart an engine and put it back together when many people can’t even pull out a sparkplug.”

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