ABC backs technical plan for students

July 27, 2009
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As the workers, cranes and other machinery moving about Grand Rapids-area building projects demonstrate, the construction business can certainly be a boon to our communities and state.

Yet, with demand for skilled construction workers expected to grow in Michigan during the next decade, even if it’s only to replace an aging work force, many contractors are fearful of a shortage of qualified laborers. One cause of their worry, ironically, is the Michigan Merit Curriculum, which changed the state’s high school graduation requirements.

Although the goal of the new curriculum is laudable, as it stands now, it endangers career technical education — and thus would fail to prepare a sizable percentage of students for the future job market.

Associated Builders and Contractors of Michigan supports House Bill 4410, which would ensure technical career education for students who desire it. Hearings on the bill, introduced in February by state Rep. Joel Sheltrown, D-West Branch, were held this month by the House Education Committee.

The Michigan Merit Curriculum, adopted in 2006 for graduates beginning in 2011, focuses on classes geared toward pursuing a four-year college degree. That’s a good start, but state lawmakers should finish the job by ensuring that all students have access to a high school education that will prepare them for Michigan’s future economy.

Although four-year degrees are certainly desirable in today’s knowledge-based economy, for a variety of reasons some students are better suited to technical careers. HB 4410 would enhance the state-mandated curriculum by adding a technical career option that would prepare students for good, stable jobs in construction and other industries.

To be sure, the proposed legislation would still ensure a rigorous education. In fact, a technical education pathway would enhance the new curriculum with tougher standards than Michigan has had throughout its history.

A technical education option also would keep more kids in school. The state’s dropout rate is already much too high, and many researchers have argued that the new curriculum as originally adopted could prompt even more students to abandon their education altogether. 

What’s more, an increase in dropouts could occur even as demand for construction workers increases. Michigan needs to rebuild its crumbling infrastructure, and our experienced work force is beginning to retire. We need to replace retiring workers with those who have the technical training to build and rebuild our communities and state.

We agree that higher standards are needed for Michigan students, but we urge the Legislature to avoid a “one-size-fits-all” approach and instead fine-tune graduation requirements to help a larger percentage of students succeed. Now is the time to finish the job by ensuring all students have access to a high school education that will prepare them for Michigan’s new economy. Good careers and a strong economy depend upon it, as do our students.

Chris Fisher is president of Associated Builders & Contractors of Michigan.

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