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High Schoolers Earn Certifications from Industry

A diploma isn’t the only important document that some students have in hand when they graduate from high school these days. A growing number of students, educators say, are graduating with specific, industry-defined skills certifications that can have immediate value in the job market. Industries in which such certification is available include computer maintenance, automotive repair, nursing, graphic arts and food service.

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From Journal of Business

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CHICAGO — A diploma isn’t the only important document that some students have in hand when they graduate from high school these days.

A growing number of students, educators say, are graduating with specific, industry-defined skills certifications that can have immediate value in the job market.

Industries in which such certification is available include computer maintenance, automotive repair, nursing, graphic arts and food service.

“There is going to be more and more interest in certification as the general public figures out that you might not need a college degree, but you need a high level of skills to make a decent wage,” says on Howell, director of the Spokane Skills Center. “That’s the wave of the future for professional and technical education.”

Not all students who take classes in fields in which certification is available opt to become certified, but Howell says all who pass the coursework have the knowledge necessary to pass certification tests.

Vee Sutherlin, director of school and college relations at Community Colleges of Spokane, says that students who received industry certifications in high school can continue to follow that path into similar programs at Spokane Falls Community College, Spokane Community College or other schools.

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Certifications earned in high school can count toward credits at the community-college level, Sutherlin says. In some cases, a college freshman with a certification in hand can take more advanced classes right out of the chute and can earn an associate’s degree faster than someone who doesn’t have any previous training.

“Obviously, the student who started creating a career base in high school is going to have a leg up,” Sutherlin says.

Most of the time, at least in the automotive industry, education and experience beyond that garnered in high school is needed before a worker can go on to a career in that field, says Rick Martin, owner of Martin Motors Inc., in northeast Spokane. With a couple of certifications, a student leaving high school might be able to get a job at a lube-oil-filter shop or a tire store, but typically wouldn’t be qualified to work in a full-service repair shop.

Martin is a member of the automotive advisory board at the Spokane Skills Center, which is run by a consortium of nine school districts. He strongly encourages the idea of students who are interested in an automotive career going on to a community college.

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Generally speaking, certifications can be placed into two categories: technical and professional.

Most of the programs with which certifications are associated fall under the technical umbrella, Howell says, and the most popular such programs at the skills center currently involve automotive training.

Students there can work toward the Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) automotive technician certification. Howell says the school is qualified to offer ASE certification in four areas: brakes, front-end suspension, engine performance, and electronics.

Realistically, however, even the most ambitious students likely-would only get certified in two areas, Howell says. Most of the time, a student interested in becoming a technician would go on to community college to achieve certifications in all ASE fields en route to becoming what the industry refers to as a master technician.

The school also offers what is called ICAR certification, for automotive-collision repair.

While both ASE and I-CAR certifications can be earned at the high school level, “They must have industry experience before they can sew the patch on their arm sleeve,” says Howell.

Because there is a cost involved in taking certification tests, which can be from $30 to $300 depending on the industry, Howell estimates that only 10 percent of the students involved in the automotive program at the skills center receive any sort of certification before graduation.

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Computer-related certifications are easier to attain and less expensive, so a larger percentage of the students in those programs attain certification while in high school.

Such certifications include training in A+, a designation for computer hardware and general operations capability; Cisco, for computer networking systems; various Microsoft software development; Oracle Academy, for Internet database programming; and DigiPen, for computer programming and animation.

Individual high schools also offer certification in various software applications, such as the components of Microsoft Office, as well as basic levels of Cisco training.

Scott Oakshott, a coordinator of professional-technical education for Spokane School District No. 81, says that if one were to strip away the brand names associated with the certifications, you basically would have a comprehensive computer-programming curriculum. Certification, however, will continue to be part of that.

“As our curriculum evolves, the industry certifications will be part of that curriculum,” he says.

Other types of technical certification available at the skills center include industry standards in welding, printing, and computer graphics.

In professional fields, the nursing-assistance program is the most popular with students, and most of the students in that program, between 30 and 40 a year, obtain nursing assistant certification before graduation, Howell says.

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Many of those students go on to become registered nurses, he says.

Other professional certifications include designations from the restaurant and hospitality industry’s American Culinary Federation and the National Restaurant Association.

Also, the Washington state Association of Dentists certificate is awarded to students who complete the dental-assistant training.

Susan Christenson-Fuhrman, coordinator of career and technical training at Central Valley School District No. 356, says such programs have come a long way in the last 10 years.

“What was known as vocational education-what used to be primarily cooking and shop-has evolved tremendously,” she says. “Most parents of high school students would remember very different experiences.”

Copyright 2004 Journal of Business via ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All Rights Reserved.

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