“The worst thing that can happen is for a youngster to finish high school, barely pass MCAS, and have no skills.”
Educators say Masschusetts’s system of vocational-technical high schools could serve as a model for other states struggling with a critical shortage of skilled workers.
“Voc-tech” students in the Commonwealth typically spend their first year exploring up to ten different career and technical majors – followed by three years of on-the-job training and traditional high school courses.
David Ferreira, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of Vocational Administrators, said students graduate with the industry credentials needed to get hired.
“If you can come out as a pre-apprentice carpenter or pre-apprentice electrician and get into an apprenticeship program,” said Ferreira, “you can make a very good living.”
Three quarters of U.S. manufacturers say attracting and retaining quality workers are among their greatest challenges – but employers in the Commonwealth say voc-tech graduates are more job-ready than students from traditional, college-prep high schools.
Educational reforms in Massachusetts were made to better incorporate academics into voc-tech training, giving students once thought of as not college material a better chance at pursuing a degree or certificate.
Ferreira said voc-tech schools offer students from low-income households, in particular, a roadmap to financial independence.
“The worst thing that can happen is for a youngster to finish high school, barely pass MCAS (Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System), and have no skills,” said Ferreira, “because now they’re out there looking for – you know what kind of job – low skill-set jobs that pay minimum wage.”
Ferreira said the state’s 36 voc-tech schools also teach more students with special needs compared to other public schools statewide and have a lower dropout rate. He said it shows that students engaged in small-group, hands-on learning stand a greater chance at success.
Vocational-technical schools also have industry advisory councils and build relationships with local businesses that provide equipment and training, as well as a direct pipeline to employment.
Tim Ross is a graduate of Old Colony Regional Vocational Technical High School in Rochester. He said he originally trained to be a mechanic, like his Dad, but was soon exposed to opportunities in computer information technology.
“I mean, it was just a diverse background, which again, applies to me even to this day,” said Ross. “I still develop web pages, I do social networking. And if it wasn’t for that background or skill, I wouldn’t have had my interest peaked in my brain to go forward and do that.”
Ross, like other voc-tech students, worked closely with the same teachers throughout high school and built industry contacts even before graduation – helping him become the systems analyst he is today.
Support for this reporting was provided by Lumina Foundation.
Kathryn Carley began her career in community radio, and is happy to be back, covering the New England region for Public News Service. Getting her start at KFAI in Minneapolis, Carley graduated from the University of Minnesota and then worked as a reporter for Minnesota Public Radio, focusing on energy and agriculture. Moving to Washington, D.C., she filed stories for The Pacifica Network News and The Pacifica Report. Later Carley worked as News Host for New York Public Radio, WNYC as well as Co-Anchor for Newsweek’s long running radio program, Newsweek on Air. Carley also served as News Anchor for New York Times Radio. She now lives near Boston, MA.