Editor’s note: For February’s CTE Month®, we are featuring Q&A sessions with Iowa educators and students who are participating in career and technical education programs. Their experiences and perspectives provide a glimpse into the importance of CTE instruction for skill development and career exploration. Quality CTE programs help prepare students for future employment in high-demand fields and play an important role in strengthening Iowa’s workforce and economy.
This week’s session highlights Industrial Technology educator Seth Vernon. Vernon currently provides instruction for students in grades 9-12 at Chariton Community High School. During his 10 years of teaching experience, Vernon has taught drafting, metals, welding, automotive, manufacturing and manufacturing engineering, Intro to Computer Numerical Control (CNC) and more. In this Q&A session, he shares his thoughts on why CTE programming is important and how solid relationships with local businesses can help shape a student’s future career.
The journey to becoming a CTE educator can vary from person to person. How did you become interested in teaching CTE?
In high school, I had taken different classes like automotive, welding and small gas engines and also participated in a few advanced classes. I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do, and while at William Penn University, I had a conversation with my industrial ed teacher from high school. He suggested that I might be a good teacher, and I considered the idea. I would get to work with kids, work with my hands and see cool projects. After that conversation, I focused on teaching and industrial tech and was able to get my degree in three-and-a-half years.
Since I’ve started at Chariton, I’ve helped to continue adding more industrial tech classes to the curriculum. It’s expanded from just manufacturing to seven programs.
What things are important to have for a high-quality CTE program (ie – Advisory Committees, Work-Based learning, Regional Planning Partnerships, Intermediaries, access to regional centers, etc.)?
In my first five years at the high school, we didn’t have many great connections to manufacturing businesses in the area. I think we made our biggest jump in advancement when we were able to finally make a connection. It opened doors for us. We can talk to them about the latest things in manufacturing, and we can do different projects and have access to different equipment. For work-based learning, I can send a student to job shadow there. They can learn more about machining or intern in the welding area. It is great to have a manufacturer to work with and that is ready to help you. They have been great at supplying materials, coming in for presentations or having a kid spend time with them onsite. Having this relationship has helped us grow as a program and has helped students learn more.
Nearly 70 percent of Iowa high school students were enrolled in a CTE program during the 2019-20 school year. Why is it important to encourage students to participate in at least one CTE program?
Lucas County only has 8,000 people living here, and many of the jobs available are hands-on type jobs like manufacturing. So, many employees need experience in CTE programs to work here, and if we want students to stay here in the community, we need to introduce them to the type of jobs that are here and help them get the skills for them. I don’t necessarily push a student into one career field. I’d rather have them see different areas, different careers and explore what they want to do. We try to push industrial tech versus just welding or engineering. Explore the area, do some projects and try some job shadows. Learn what you like to do and are good at.
Why are CTE programs and CTE teachers key components for strengthening Iowa’s future workforce?
We need to introduce these types of careers in high school. There are a lot of kids who don’t know what they want to do. CTE programs have been able to introduce them into careers that have job openings. CTE programs provide hands-on experiences. It’s not just something you read on a powerpoint. It allows the students to explore while still in high school.
CTE is critical in building the future workforce. For businesses, the main pipeline for more employees is going to be at the high schools. Manufacturing, auto shops and other places are looking for employees, and these employees don’t necessarily need to go to a four-year college. Many employers are looking for work ethic and someone who can learn, and these jobs often pay well.
Do you have a success story of a current or former student that you can share?
I worked with a student, who recently graduated, to set up a work experience at Pella Corporation in machining. Together, we were able to schedule him for a few hours a couple days a week at Pella to get hands-on experience. The student knew how to program on his own and run parts. At the end of his experience right before graduation, we met again with Pella. They offered him full-time employment but also suggested he pursue further education at Indian Hills Community College to increase his earning potential. The student worked 40 hours a week in the summer and now works a flexible schedule at Pella Corporation while attending Indian Hills.
Another student, who will graduate this spring, is in the manufacturing engineering program and has been getting experience at Johnson Machine Works, a local manufacturing company, to practice modeling. He has just been hired on as an employee. He doesn’t get a lot of hours – maybe 1-2 per day, but he is getting more time to practice and learn how to be a better employee. There will be opportunities for him to join full-time this summer before he goes to Iowa State University for engineering in the fall. Johnson’s would also like to have him stay on while he is going to college.
There is currently a shortage of CTE educators in Iowa, and professionals with experience in high-demand job fields can often make great CTE teachers. What would you say to encourage business and industry personnel to consider becoming CTE educators?
I actually think finding high school students who may become good teachers or trainers is a better way to get more CTE teachers. You can tell as an educator which students are good at a little of everything in the field and can think in broad terms. You can also tell which kids have the drive and initiative to do this job. I like to tell them that teaching can be fun. It doesn’t feel like work most of the time. If there is a student who could be a good teacher, I ask them to be a co-teacher. They initially dread it, but it is empowering. When they are able to help someone else and that person gets it, there is always a big smile. Having students co-teach not only helps them better learn the subject or skill they’re teaching, but it also gives them confidence. I’ve had a few students go on to become trainers and hope a few will become teachers in the future, too.