Vocational training has not been historically popular in the United States, where a four-year college education has long been the preferred path for success after high school. But a shift is undoubtedly underway.
In 2014, President Barack Obama announced funding for over $100 million
in Youth CareerConnect grants for school districts to build career academies that create pathways in high-demand industries. "We've got to make sure that our economy works for everybody, not just a few," Obama said to a crowd in Prince George's County, Maryland.
Now commonly called "career technical education," vocational education programs were commonly thought of as an option for students who weren't going to college. Students would learn their core classes at their home school and travel to a career technical education center for their vocational programs.
In Detroit, Golightly Career and Technical Center
(Golightly CTC) is leading the charge in providing career technical training to high schoolers, and soon they won't be the only ones. One of Detroit Public Schools Community District Superintendent, Dr. Nikolai Vitti's initiatives is to have a career technical education pathway in every high school
in the district.
Currently, Golightly is one of the three career technical education centers in the district. Built in the early 1900s, it was originally named after the first president of the Detroit school board, George W. Balch. The school opened as Golightly in 1982, a vocational school named after Cornelius L. Golightly, the first African-American Detroit school board president and a nod to the changing demographics of the neighborhood.
Golightly is often referred to as the "beacon" of the Jefferson Chalmers neighborhood. Through its renowned culinary arts program, the school serves regular buffets to its neighbors. Jefferson Chalmers residents also frequently take advantage of the print shop.
Student kneads dough in Golightly's Bakeshop
For students, Golightly currently offers six career pathways, such as welding, through one-year training programs to students from the surrounding home schools. Students split time between their high school and training at Golightly.
Neal Morrison, principal at Golightly CTC, modified the programs at the school to fit the state model. "Golightly had a two-year program model, but most CTE's in the state had one-year programs. So I changed that when I came in, which gave us a much higher completion rate."
Golightly offers law enforcement, computer networking and repair, graphic design where students earn certification in the Adobe suite, and much more. Morrison also hopes to soon add a machining class to the curriculum.
The school is, however, best known for its culinary arts and flight training programs. Students can gain culinary arts experience in the dining room, bakeshop, as well as a production kitchen. And Golightly is in the same building as Davis Aerospace Technical High School, which prepares students for careers in aviation and STEM fields.
Classroom with simulators at Davis Aerospace Technical High School
Across all these preparatory curriculums, the goal is the same: employment after graduation.
"In our welding program, we commonly have 40 to 50 kids a year," says Morrison. "They come out, and a lot of them get picked up by employers. Those jobs might pay $15 to $20 an hour. Or they can go to community college and gain more training. A welder who can program a robotic welding machine can make up to $100,000 a year."
Recently, the Restaurant Opportunity Center of Michigan spoke to students at Golightly about how to be connected with jobs in the dozens of new restaurants opening in the city. Norma G's, the popular Trinidadian-themed restaurant which opened in Jefferson Chalmers in 2018, has sought out Golightly students for its kitchen.
The career technical education programs at Golightly each have articulation agreements with at least one local college and students can earn college credit while still in high school making the pathway to post-secondary education easier. "The end is different for everybody," says Morrison. "CTE can prepare you for college or you can walk straight into a job."
Principal Neal Morrison
In Detroit, an entire middle class was created through skilled labor. While manufacturing jobs have continued to decline through increasing globalization and technological advances, it is still possible that career technical education is a promising option for educating, training, and hiring the next generation of Detroit's workforce.
"If you have a student in King or another high school in the area, encourage them to come over," Morrison says. "Because if they come here, and they want to be here, they will
This article is part of our "On the Ground" series, where a journalist reports from a dedicated neighborhood for weekly coverage. Support for this series is provided by the Kresge Foundation.
Photos by Nick Hagen.