Boys Town has joined the ranks of educational institutions that integrate vocational training with academics. As the New York Times reports, the Nebraskan juvenile rehabilitation center, founded as an orphanage in 1917, is reinventing itself in response to the changing job market. Boys Town offered its residents a standard curriculum, and sent “as many as half of its graduating class—usually 90 to 100 students total—into the military.” But the military began accepting fewer and fewer graduates from Boys Town, and accepted none in 2013:
In his search for solutions, Jeff Peterson, the senior director of home campus operations, found that many high schools were reorienting toward producing skilled workers.
The public school system in nearby Grand Island built the $5 million Career Pathways Institute, an old warehouse now outfitted for instruction in welding, general construction, information technology and manufacturing. It was started after complaints about a lack of skilled labor for farm machinery manufacturer Case IH and other businesses.
Mr. Peterson heard similar needs. One contractor said he was “going nuts” because his workers could not identify a square; meanwhile, skilled laborers could earn a premium. “I talked to our roofing guy, talked to our construction guys. We met with union folks and trade groups,” he said. “They said the same thing: ‘If a kid can frame, he’ll start out at $3 or $4 higher than a general laborer.’”
The demand for skilled workers reaches far beyond the companies Boys Town administrators talked to. Similar needs were cited by employers included in an Atlantic piece on attempts to replicate the German apprenticeship model in the United States. This shift seems like a smart move on the part of Boys Town, and one that traditional schools could imitate in their own way. American primary education ought to be devising more programs that prepare students for futures other than those associated with the four-year residential college path. If Boys Town, and the local schools whose example it is following, are any indication, more educators are starting to realize this.