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Pruning Dead-End Pathways in Career and Technical Ed.

Warren County High School leaders knew they had a problem on their hands. Too many of their graduates were fixing lawnmower engines, a dead-end job in a declining industry, while right down the road, manufacturers were clamoring for workers with sophisticated technology skills to support the area’s booming automotive industry.

This small-town high school decided to right that imbalance. School officials phased out their program in two- and four-cycle engines and introduced a course of study in mechatronics, a blend of electronics and engineering that’s the brains of the automation in many advanced manufacturing systems.

With only a high school diploma and an entry-level mechatronics certification, teenagers can earn more than $45,000 a year here in rural Tennessee. Additional certifications and experience can boost earnings to $60,000.

Students can go further, too: They can earn associate degrees at local community colleges in mechanical pre-engineering or advanced integrated technology, or head to Middle Tennessee State University for bachelor’s degrees in engineering technology.