Any time the governor visits a community it’s a special occasion, especially when a school is the focus of the visit.

That was the case last week when Gov. Mike Parson visited the Four Rivers Career Center in Washington. He was in town to put his stamp of approval on the vocational school’s apprenticeship program and to visit with students, which number about 600 from three counties.

Gov. Parson is a committed advocate of vocational education, which he views as a crucial component in workforce development — one of his top priorities. The Republican from Wheatland campaigned on the issue of workforce development and is a proponent of developing more options for high-demand job training.

That’s why he visited Four Rivers. The vocational school’s Youth Registered Apprenticeship Program just graduated its first class of students who will go to work for companies in this area who are in need of skilled employees.

The students spent the past months training alongside skilled mentors in these companies, acquiring invaluable hands-on experience.

The governor encouraged students in his classroom visits. He said he is proud of the school districts that are investing significantly in trade-skills training and which have adopted work-ready programs that offer “real-life skills” to compete in the job market.

There was a time when vocational programs offered by school districts weren’t given the same priority as traditional classes. They were devalued by schools, and vocational school graduates didn’t receive the same acclaim. Vocational schools suffered from an image problem.

There was a mindset by too many parents that their children had to go college, which was fine except that many of the high school graduates weren’t suited for college.

Not anymore. Today, forward-thinking high schools are investing significantly in trade-skills training. They are providing students with specialized skills to help them meet local business needs. They are shifting what learning looks like by partnering with employers who are providing paid training apprentice programs to students to teach them the skills the company needs.

Vocational and technical schools are turning out graduates who enter the workforce prepared for long and successful careers in high-demand fields. Many of these graduates will enjoy successful and lucrative careers. In fact, some companies are paying higher starting salaries to apprentice technicians than to recent college graduates.

If the state is going to attract new industries, the availability of a skilled and trainable workforce is vital. Parson understands this. That’s why he toured the Four Rivers Career Center. He recognizes what a great asset the school is to this area and the state.