Graduating from high school is a life-changing event. Whether going on to college, finding a job, or joining the military – among many things – high school graduation is a moment of transition. Attending a vocational program provides graduates with the skills to find a job within their desired career upon graduation. From its first graduating class in 1970 to the end of the 1990s, graduates of the Connersville Area Vocational School (now known as the Whitewater Technical Career Center) were able to find employment in the city of Connersville.
Pam Taylor was a member of the first class to graduate from the vocational program. Pam “always wanted to work in an office and there were many opportunities in town.” Her vocational training helped her to get a job immediately after graduation, by “putting it on [her] application. It was kind of new to the businesses around here and [the businesses] thought ‘Wow this is great. These are people that had some almost on the job training,’ so to say… it was highly respected and considered when [businesses] were choosing candidates.” Companies were enthusiastic about the opportunity to hire recent graduates with training to fill open positions.
The Connersville Area Vocational School trained students for positions available in the city of Connersville and the surrounding counties at the time. Some courses, like drafting, are not readily available in other programs in the state of Indiana; they existed and thrived in Connersville because there was a labor market pushing for new employees with that specific training.
By 1981 – nearly 10 years after its creation and when Don Brown graduated from the drafting program at the vocational school – Roots had set in place a co-op program to train and ultimately hire top graduates from the drafting program, which he was a part of; the best students in auto-body and machine shop were being head-hunted by top firms out of Cincinnati and Indianapolis; and John Brown noted the influx of graduates to the shop at Roots after its opening throughout his tenure there until 2003. Within 10 years of opening its doors, Connersville Area Vocational School had established strong connections with the local labor market.
As both a graduate of the program and the head draftsman at Roots, Don Brown was able to reflect on what he believed to be the success of the program. Before hiring Don, the head draftsman had hired at least one drafter from the school every spring for the last five years. They started doing the apprentice work, but each was able to work their way up through the ranks.
Jim and Jeff Riedman, whose family has owned the local car dealership Riedman Motors in Connersville since the 1920s, still hires from the technical school like they have since it’s opening in 1969. Students from the auto-body and machine shop courses are desirable candidates for working in the maintenance department at Riedman’s. Although current employees still have to earn certain qualifications to be able to work on vehicles – qualifications that are set out by Chrysler, Jeep, and Dodge -, their course work at the technical school has provided them with a good foundation to get an introductory position at Riedman’s and improve from there.
It is important to note that, although vocational training provided students with hands-on experience and work-like situations, their degree typically served as a foot in the door. Having a degree in a specific field did not allow them to enter their desired field at a higher level; graduates still had to work their way through the ranks and continue to train if they wished to move up. Some students – like Don Brown – even found that going back to school to get a higher degree, whether an Associates or a Bachelors, was useful if you wanted to improve or change your position. Many of Jeff Riedman‘s current employees attend school to receive their Associates degree while they work at Riedman Motors.
Even as some companies closed and others were bought out by national interests, graduates of the program flooded shop floors, office spaces, and local sales positions from its first graduating class in 1970 until companies left, technology changed, or – in some cases – the employers found the students be unprepared for their jobs. Influences on both the local and national level played a role in the diminishing job market in Connersville.