While the Los Angeles labor market has made great strides with our current economic expansion, this remains an area filled with many low income and homeless individuals who have not completed a bachelor’s degree.

The welfare of this segment of our population remains a challenge for policy makers and educators alike.

What can be done to elevate the standards of the working poor?

Higher numbers of jobs and an increase in the minimum wage have provided support, but a greater focus on vocational educational opportunities for those not pursuing bachelor degrees would make an even greater difference.

After working over the last year with Mount Saint Mary’s University Los Angeles Keck Scholars Melanie Corral and Stephanie Hickman, several key points have been developed to propose suggestions and ideas in this mission-critical area of our local educational system.

Colleges, school administrators and local leaders should all consider the fact that a major stigma exists concerning students pursuing vocational labor market education. In many cases, those not pursuing four-year college education are not perceived as intelligent or promising in their careers, solely based upon their choice not to attend college.

This fallacy should always be countered head on with facts that demonstrate that many vocational education students have highly advanced cognitive abilities that may not complement academic study involving textbooks, lectures and other intellectual pursuits. As such, institutions of learning must take greater care to articulate this key fact, working with educators, community members and other stakeholders to signify the equality of opportunity for students who consider and/or pursue tracks that might not include completion of a bachelor’s degree.

In addition to reducing the stigma associated with this issue, educators must continue to build their Career Technical Education (CTE) coordination with local corporations. While local community colleges keenly focus on the labor market skills for vocational workers, K-12 institutions have many new opportunities to consider in this area.

K-12 schools should continue to build greater relationships with local corporations, across entire districts in Los Angeles, opposed to a solely local focus. The Los Angeles Unified School District itself is to be commended for focusing educating students about career options, but more emphasis on vocational career track options from counselors and teachers will help build opportunities in this area. Given that many vocational tracks in Los Angeles simply cannot find enough workers to meet existing demand, a greater awareness about opportunities on the part of high school students could help close some of the gaps that exist in the current labor market.

Another remedy for consideration is the growth of dual-enrollment programs with community college pathway programs. This represents one way in which K-12 institutions could continue to build awareness of vocational labor opportunities, and skills, of students not planning to attend a four-year college.

In addition, high schools and colleges must focus more greatly on middle skills development. These skills allow an individual a professional career track without obtaining a bachelor’s degree. Development of new associate’s degree programs in this area could raise the awareness of middle skills, not to mention providing more educational opportunities for students to grow their skills and marketability.

While we remain encouraged by the strong economy and the resilience of Southern California in rebounding from the stark downturn of the past decade, we ask our educators and policy makers to apply some of the robust educational budgetary resources prevailing today to growing the educational opportunities identified here in hopes that, in the long term, we can elevate the living standards of all who do not wish to pursue, or who cannot attend, a four-year college. Emphasis on these approaches before the end of this current business cycle will make all the difference in building greater opportunities for this critical area of our local population.

Christian B. Teeter is an assistant professor of business at Mount Saint Mary’s University in Los Angeles.

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