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Legislator proposes technical diplomas aimed at specific careers

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As local welders, manufacturers and computer programers retire during the next several years, local students could be better prepared to fill those jobs after completing a new high school curriculum.

Due to the aging workforce, Johnson County should have hundreds of openings in health care, programing, manufacturing and other fields. The students who have the best chance at landing those jobs are the ones who have already mastered the technical math, reading and writing skills required for the positions, Central Nine Career Center director David Edds said.

Having a strong back and work ethic aren’t enough anymore, Edds said. He hopes a different course load will better prepare students for those jobs.

Most area school districts encourage or require graduates to earn a Core 40 diploma, which requires six specific math, science and social studies credits and eight language arts credits. Those include courses such as Algebra II. The problem is that’s not necessarily the math course that everybody needs.

If high school students know that they want a career in advanced manufacturing, for example, then they need to be able to take a math course that involves more problem-solving skills than Algebra II. Those students may also need to take a physics course, which right now is an elective and not a requirement for the Core 40 diploma, said State Rep. Wendy McNamara, R-Mount Vernon.

McNamara, director of Early College High School in Evansville, has been speaking with employers who are concerned they can’t find workers with the technical math, reading and communication skills needed to fill job openings. Those skills vary by career and will be different for a computer programmer than they will be for a welder, but students need to have more opportunities to develop those skills in high school, McNamara said.

She wants the state to create a new career and technical diploma for high school students. The new diploma, which would potentially be ready for the class of 2019, wouldn’t replace Core 40 but would give students who weren’t interested in a four-year college degree more options while preparing for their careers, McNamara said. Her proposal has passed the House and should be considered this week by the Senate.

“It’s finally putting the power back in the hands of the child, to determine for themselves, the option to choose a diploma that’s in an interest in his or her chosen field,” McNamara said.

Indiana already offers a technical honors diploma, which requires college or career courses in addition to meeting the Core 40 requirements. Few Indiana students take that option. In 2011, of the 48,966 Indiana high school graduates, 621 graduates — just more than 1 percent — earned a technical honors diploma, McNamara said.

Students who earned the new diploma in most cases would still need an associate’s degree or some kind of additional training for their careers. But if students are able to take physics, analytical math or other courses that they know will be used in their careers, then they won’t have to spend as much time training after high school or on the job, both McNamara and Edds said.

“I really believe it’s a way to make a statement to an employer that this child has met a certain set of skills,” Edds said.

If the bill is passed, the Indiana Works Councils, which help oversee career and technical education in the state, would create the details for the diploma and specify whether school districts need to add courses or programs, McNamara said.

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