Long before his State of the State address on Monday evening, John Kasich signaled a focus on education. Among the themes the governor has sounded frequently — and quite correctly — is the urgent need to connect more closely K-12 education and career preparation, or vocational education. As promised, the governor outlined a handful of education initiatives, including an expansion of vocational education to students in the seventh and eighth grades. According to the Columbus Dispatch, the Kasich administration already had quietly canceled in September a rule that limited vocational education to high school students.

There is no arguing the need for students to understand as early as possible the range of current and future career paths and jobs open to them and the skills they will need to take advantage of those options. It is not unusual, either, to find students who aspire to certain jobs but have no notion what the job entails or the specific training and skills necessary to succeed in it. In too many cases, the result is students spend time pursuing college courses for which they are ill-suited while incurring huge amounts of debt.

Meanwhile, employers in skilled professions, such as manufacturing and construction, point to growing difficulty in finding skilled workers, from machinists and equipment operators to carpenters and engineers. To provide better direction and opportunities, the Akron Public Schools, for instance, offers in all the middle schools vocational programs that lead up to a variety of career programs in the high schools.

Still, it will require much more than erasing a few rules for a middle school program to make a significant difference. Structural supports are critical, such as enough teachers with up-to-date industry skills, adequately equipped labs and workshops and strong networks of employers, community and technical colleges that will provide enough apprenticeships and internships. The hope is that more details will be forthcoming in the governor’s mid-biennium budget review on how all this will come together to improve job prospects for Ohio students.