From the Gloucester Daily Times:
Our region has a few real gems for teenagers who want to learn advanced skills to prepare themselves for good-paying jobs. The vocational schools serving the North Shore and Merrimack Valley — Greater Lawrence, Whittier and the brand-new facility at Essex Tech — offer myriad opportunities whether one’s interests lie in culinary arts, high-tech manufacturing or equine science. Like most high schools, these buildings are stretched to capacity during the school day and underused once the doors close.
All offer evening courses, to be sure. But all have even more potential to help people looking to move into new professions. The facilities — classrooms, labs and equipment — are there. Long lists of would-be students wait in the wings. The missing piece is instruction.
Fortunately the state is taking encouraging steps to fill the void.
During a visit to Greater Lawrence Technical High School last week, Gov. Charlie Baker announced a $15 million “Career Tech” plan designed to use vocational schools in the state to their fullest potential. The plan should be good news to thousands of high school students now on waiting lists to get into these schools — the statewide number was 3,200 as of last year, according to the Alliance for Vocational Technical Education. It will also serve adults who could move into better jobs if given the right opportunities.
The Career Tech plan imagines three daily “shifts” at each voke school. The first is for students enrolled at those schools during the standard school day. The next session, from 2 to 5 p.m., serves students attending other high schools but who want to take vocational classes — an opportunity for kids who could not find a regular spot at one of the tech schools or who are looking to broaden their horizons. A third session, from 5 to 9 p.m., is geared toward adults looking for new skills and training.
Keeping the doors open, even if just for a few classes in the afternoons, will be a boon to thousands of students who want to study subjects such as information technology, design, engineering, graphics and the like, but for whom there simply isn’t enough space for the regular enrollment. “It’s a capacity issue,” John Lavoie, superintendent of Greater Lawrence Technical High School, told Statehouse reporter Christian Wade last spring. “We need to add more classrooms and shops, particularly in the (science, technology, engineering and math) programs.” Keeping the schools open into the evenings offers opportunities for adults already in the workforce but who aren’t reaching their potential.
Rosalin Acosta, the state’s secretary of Labor and Workforce Development, promised a “joyful” and “transformational” program. “We know there are 200,000 jobs in Massachusetts and there are only about 110,000 people looking for work,” she said during last week’s tour of Greater Lawrence Tech, according to reporter Genevieve DiNatale’s account.
The Career Tech can cover some of that gap, though not nearly all of it. A release from Baker’s office suggests 7,500 to 10,000 more high-school students will be enrolled in what it calls “high-impact” vocational trade programs over the next four years. In addition, the state expects 9,000 to 13,000 adults to be trained.
Career Tech will pay for more classes. It promises to involve area businesses in developing new programs, and it aims to grow a roster of instructors by lowering the licensing hurdles that stand between people now working in key fields and teaching positions.
The program arrives at an important time. As the Baby Boom generation retires, the governor’s office notes, the labor shortage deepens. A vacuum created by more people leaving the workforce than entering it, much like the scarcity of affordable housing, is worrisome to anyone who looks too long into the state’s economic future. When companies cannot hire enough workers, motivation grows to move elsewhere. For those that choose to stay, their capacity to expand is constrained.
No single initiative will solve these economy-wide issues. But propping open the doors to the region’s vocational schools an extra seven hours every day is a good place to start.