Academic test mandates hurt need to train future craftsmen

Requiring that Pennsylvania high school students spend more hours in classrooms to meet “academic standards” sacrifices and has clearly impacted the dire need to give students more opportunities to learn a trade.

We’re talking producing more carpenters, welders, plumbers, electricians, masons, mechanics, woodworkers, and other skilled craftsmen.

These trades can pay family-sustaining wages.

And while we’re encouraged by state and federal legislation to enhance career and technical education — formerly known as vocational-technical education, or vo-tech — it’s also clear that nothing will change unless the powers-that-be at the state and U.S. Departments of Education accede to the change and stop forcing local school districts to adhere to their “academics first” policies or else.

At the state and federal levels, standards are good, but they change too often and seem to always overlook the importance of career and technical education.

We heard that from Ken Kryder, director of Keystone Central’s Career and Technical Education Center, at last week’s Legislative Luncheon sponsored by the Clinton County Economic Partnership.

Did you know that First Quality Inc., Clinton County’s largest private employer and among the largest manufacturers in Pennsylvania, is so supportive of technical education that it is sending company representatives to Central Mountain High School classrooms to talk to students about opportunities at the company, which has begun work toward installing a third paper-making machine here in Lock Haven.

What’s that tell us?

The new machine should bring 200 more jobs here, and FQ is constantly seeking qualified, trainable people to fill jobs, what with its expansive manufacturing operations here and beyond.

And that’s just it: Private industry — manufacturers in particular — need to be more vocal about and participate in convincing lawmakers to make career and technical education as important as academics. The cream rises to the top in any profession.

Did you know that Sweden requires, for example, that woodworking and crafting be taught to school-age children before they graduate? Are we requiring similar training here before graduation?

We are encourged by legislation to enhance vo-tech education (we prefer that phrase).

Last fall, the U.S. House overwhelmingly approved legislation sponsored by U.S. Rep. Glenn Thompson called the “Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act,” H.R. 5587. Thompson, who is co-chair of the House Career and Technical Education Caucus and a senior member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, wants to reform the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act “to help more Americans enter the workforce with the skills they need to compete for high-skilled, in-demand jobs.”

That won’t happen unless bureaucrats in Harrisburg and Washington, D.C. ease their positions on academic standards.

There is a movement afoot in Harrisburg: On Monday, the House voted 187-0 in favor of HB202 to amend the Public School Code to create an alternative pathway for career and technical education students to demonstrate readiness for high school graduation and – importantly — to remove the statutory requirement for development and implementation of more Keystone Exams.

This legislation still has to be flushed out, but it represents a big step in the right direction.

According to a survey by the Associated General Contractors of America, 62 percent of Pennsylvania contractors report they are having a hard time filling positions for skilled craft positions like carpenters, electricians, plumbers and others.

Part of the reason for Pennsylvania’s shortage is an antiquated regulatory framework governing apprenticeships, the AGCA says.

Under Pennsylvania law, open-shop (nonunion) contractors are required to have four supervisors for every apprentice.

Conversely, union contractors can have one supervisor for every apprentice. Not only does this provide an unfair advantage to union contractors, but it also creates a bottleneck for training new skilled trades’ people.

Legislation to address apprenticeship ratios is being introduced. According to AGCA, 39 other states have made this change to apprenticeship ratios. It’s time for Pennsylvania to join them, and it’s time for lawmakers, employers, citizens and schools to demand the flexibility to give students more opportunities to take vocational-technical education classes without jeopardizing their graduation requirements to fill the critical need for more trained, blue-collar workers.


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