Tech training is gateway to middle class

College should not be the only gateway to the middle class, writes Robert Reich, who was Bill Clinton’s secretary of Labor, in Salon.  Obsessed with bachelor’s degrees, “we’ve allowed vocational and technical education to be downgraded and denigrated,” he writes. But our economy needs skilled technicians.

As digital equipment replaces the jobs of routine workers and lower-level professionals, technicians are needed to install, monitor, repair, test, and upgrade all the equipment.

Hospital technicians are needed to monitor ever more complex equipment that now fills medical centers; office technicians, to fix the hardware and software responsible for much of the work that used to be done by secretaries and clerks.

Automobile technicians are in demand to repair the software that now powers our cars; manufacturing technicians, to upgrade the numerically controlled machines and 3-D printers that have replaced assembly lines; laboratory technicians, to install and test complex equipment for measuring results; telecommunications technicians, to install, upgrade, and repair the digital systems linking us to one another.

Community colleges train technicians at “bargain” prices, but they’re “systematically starved of funds,” writes Reich.  State legislators “direct most higher-education funding to four-year colleges and universities because that’s what their middle-class constituents want for their kids.”

Business “executives are usually the products of four-year liberal arts institutions and don’t know the value of community colleges,” he adds.

By contrast, Germany provides its students the alternative of a world-class technical education that’s kept the German economy at the forefront of precision manufacturing and applied technology.

The skills taught are based on industry standards, and courses are designed by businesses that need the graduates. So when young Germans get their degrees, jobs are waiting for them.

Young Germans choose a technical or academic track by age 14, writes Reich. Americans wouldn’t go for that.

But we could “combine the last year of high school with the first year of community college” to train technicians, writes Reich.  Employers “would help design the courses and promise jobs” to graduates. Late bloomers could pursue associate or bachelor’s degrees, if they choose.

North Carolina is adding five-year “early college” high schools, such as Wake Early College of Health and Sciences.  Students can graduate with a two-year degree or health science certificate.

IBM helped design New York City’s P-TECH, which adds two years of college-level job training to four years of high school.  IBM will hire graduates who want to go directly to the workforce.


P-TECH in Brooklyn fields a robotics team.

Six is the new four

Brooklyn’s P-Tech is the The School That Is Changing American Education, writes Rana Foroohar in Time. Students can graduate in six years with a high school diploma, an associate degree and a job offer from IBM, which worked with the City University of New York to create the program. “Six should be the new four,” says IBM executive Stanley Litow.

In Chicago, IBM partnered with Richard J. Daley College to open Sarah E. Goode STEM Academy, a six-year program that leads to a $40,0000- a-year IBM job. It’s a ticket to the middle class, writes Forhoohar.

A four-year high school degree these days only guarantees a $15 an hour future, if that. According to projections by the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University, the U.S. economy will create some 47-million job openings in the decade ending 2018, but nearly two-thirds will require some post secondary education. The Center projects that only 36% of American jobs will be filled by people with only a 4-year high school degree – half of what that number was in the 1970s.

Workers with a vocational associate degree will earn 73% more than those with only a high school diploma, the center projects.

Six years of high school (with job training)?

President Obama’s visit to Brooklyn’s P-Tech spotlighted the idea of combining high school, community college and job training, reports the New York Times. After six years at P-Tech, graduates are “first in line” for jobs at IBM, which helped create the school. Some have earned an associate degree.

Is P-Tech the wave of the future? asks the Times‘ Room for Debate blog.

P-Tech ties school directly to an interesting job, writes Amanda Ripley, author of The Smartest Kids in the World.

Very few U.S. students attend “high-quality vocational programs tightly aligned with industry needs,” she writes.

In Switzerland, Norway and Denmark, vocational students spend half to three-quarters of their schooling in work placements.

That kind of vivid experience helps kids see into the future; they can connect the dots between what they are doing in school and how interesting their lives can be.

.  . America abandoned vocational high schools for good reason, decades ago: too many were second-rate warehouses for minority and low-income kids. But now that all decent jobs require higher-order skills, there’s an opportunity to get this right. American employers want higher-order skills, and American teenagers want more interesting work. The sooner they get together, the better.

Aiming at a moving target like the job market is dangerously short-sighted,” warns Zachary Hamed, a computer science student at Harvard.

IBM’s Stan Litow calls for P-Tech-like options for students on the Shanker Blog.

“Young people who enter the workforce with only a high school diploma are expected to earn no more than $15 per hour, and many will earn less,” he writes. Yet only 25 percent of high school graduates who enroll in community college complete a degree in six years.

IBM analyzed a community college freshman class. “Nearly 100 percent of community college freshmen who required two remedial courses—with one of them being math—failed to complete even one postsecondary semester,” Litow writes. A majority of these students dropped out of college within two months.

P-Tech’s 9-14 model expands in New York

At Brooklyn’s Pathways in Technology Early College High School, known as P-Tech, students study a curriculum designed with help from IBM, work with mentors supplied by IBM and get on the inside track for IBM jobs when they graduate — potentially with an associate degree. The employer-linked grade 9-14 academic model will be replicated at 16 sites across the state, said New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

“The P-Tech model already has been copied at other schools in New York City, as well as in Chicago and Idaho,” reports Education Week.

While the Brooklyn-based version of P-Tech was connected to IBM, the partnerships in other parts of the state have drawn employers not just in technology, but health care, manufacturing, engineering, environmentally friendly building, and other industries. Companies who have come on board in communities across the state include Cisco, Lockheed Martin, Arkwin Industries, and others.

“This groundbreaking program will give students across the state the opportunity to earn a college degree without taking on significant debt from student loans while also starting on a pathway to a good-paying job when they graduate,” Cuomo said in a statement.

P-Tech opened two years ago, so “it remains to be seen how successful it will be in fulfilling its college-and-career goals for students,” notes Ed Week.

A future for all: Build paths to skilled jobs

While President Obama focuses on sending more young people to college, “apprenticeships and other pathways to rewarding careers are more cost-effective for millions of young people,” argue Robert Lerman, an American University economics professor, and Nicholas Wyman, founder of The Institute for Workplace Skills and Innovation, on PBS NewsHour.

Photo by Ulrich Baumgarten via Getty Images.
Two out of every five young adults are unemployed, yet employers can’t find “machinists, computer numerical controllers, electricians, welders, healthcare technicians” and other workers with “middle skills,” Lerman and Wyman write. The idea that everyone should pursue a bachelor’s degree has created a skills gap.

They see encouraging signs:

In New York City, for example, ‘P-Tech’ school, a collaboration involving IBM, the City’s Education Department and CUNY, is providing a STEM oriented, grades 9-to-14 curriculum with work-based learning that leads to a high school diploma and an associates degree. P-Tech’s aim is to turn out graduates with the skills they need to step directly into solid, good paying technical jobs–or to go on the higher learning with great confidence of success.

South Carolina is strengthening career tech, developing first-rate technical colleges and boosting apprenticeships.

In Pickens County, which is part of Appalachia, the closure of cotton mills and textile plants has depressed incomes and expectations.

Yet the county’s K-12 school system is confidently preparing young people for decent careers. It begins in grammar school where children receive hands-on experience with STEM concepts and problem solving. It continues at the district’s state-of-the-art Career & Technical Center, where vocationally-oriented high school students have access to industry-experienced teachers and to the machine tools, computers, robotic systems, and other equipment they will encounter in the most modern workplaces. School leaders and teachers have also overturned the long-standing perception of parents and students that the Career & Tech Center is for low-achievers. Entry to the Center’s ‘Technician Scholar’ program is by application only; kids with low GPAs and bad attitudes need not apply. It’s now cool to be a “Scholar Technician.”

Local employers collaborate with superintendents, sending their managers and technicians to work with teachers and mentor promising students.

Apprenticeship Carolina, a state program, helps employers start apprenticeships programs and coordinates with local technical colleges. Since its 2007 start, apprenticeships have increased six-fold in the state.

Students with different goals need different skills, Lerman argues. “High schools fail so many kids partly because educators can’t get free of the notion that all students — regardless of their career aspirations — need the same basic preparation. As states pile on academic courses, they give less attention to the arts and downplay career and technical education to make way for a double portion of math.”

Obama: Link high school, college, job training

High schools should put “our kids on a path to a good job,” said President Obama in the State of the Union speech.

Right now, countries like Germany focus on graduating their high school students with the equivalent of a technical degree from one of our community colleges, so that they’re ready for a job. At schools like P-Tech in Brooklyn, a collaboration between New York Public Schools, the City University of New York, and IBM, students will graduate with a high school diploma and an associate degree in computers or engineering.

. . . Tonight, I’m announcing a new challenge to redesign America’s high schools so they better equip graduates for the demands of a high-tech economy. We’ll reward schools that develop new partnerships with colleges and employers, and create classes that focus on science, technology, engineering, and math – the skills today’s employers are looking for to fill jobs right now and in the future.

Many high schools offer “dual enrollment” courses that let students earn college credits — usually through a local community college — while completing high school. Moving to a German-style apprenticeship system, which explicitly prepares students for skilled jobs, not for higher education, will take a lot more than money. It will take a major attitude change from college for all to competency for all. (Competency for most?) President Obama, whose administration cut funds for career tech programs, could lead the way.

Business, political and education leaders are trying to link high schools, community colleges and employers, reports U.S. News.

Despite high unemployment, some 600,000 jobs in advanced manufacturing and other high-tech fields are unfilled for lack of qualified workers, testified Jay Timmons, CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers, before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

Chicago is trying to fill the skills gap.

 Five high schools in the Chicago Public Schools district, including Corliss High School, Chicago Vocational Career Academy, and Lake View High School, began offering career-training tracks in September. The vocational programs are aligned with the needs of area businesses such as IBM, Motorola, and Verizon, which each partnered with a school to design alternative curricula, according to the CPS Website.

. . . Students enrolled in the program can earn a technical certification and credit toward an associate degree from City Colleges of Chicago, along with a high school diploma.

Two-year technical pathways can lead to lucrative careers, notes U.S. News. “Electrical engineering technicians earn a median salary of about $56,000 with an associate degree, and the median pay for nuclear technicians is roughly $68,000 with an associate’s, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.” Radiology technicians also earn high salaries with a two-year degree.

Pathway to technology degrees, jobs

Students are competing for a shot at a six-year high school in Brooklyn that offers vocational training and college classes, reports the New York Times.

By 2017, the first wave of students of P-Tech — Pathways in Technology Early College High School — is expected to emerge with associate’s degrees in applied science in computer information systems or electromechanical engineering technology, following a course of studies developed in consultation with I.B.M.

“I mean, in 10th grade, doing college work?” said Monesia McKnight, 15, as she sat in an introduction to computer systems course taught by a college professor. “How great is that?”

New York City plans to open several more schools on the P-Tech model, and other states are following suit.

“When we view high-quality C.T.E. programs, we see how engaged those students are and what clear aspirations they have for their future,” said John B. King Jr., the state education commissioner. “Unfortunately, that’s not always present in some of our struggling schools.”

In its second year, P-Tech houses ninth and 1oth graders at Paul Robeson High School, which is being phased out because of poor performance. Some 88 percent of P-Tech students qualify for a free or reduced-price lunch. Half tested below proficiency in eighth grade, but they’re already passing state Regents exams and taking college courses.

Students attend from 8:35 a.m. to 4:06 p.m., in 10-period days that intersperse traditional classes like math and English with technology and business-centric courses like “workplace learning,” which teaches networking, critical thinking and presentation skills. Second-year students are offered physics and global studies as well as the business courses and college-level courses in speech or logic and problem solving — or both. There is also a six-week summer academy for geometry.

Students who straight to the workforce will be prepared for “entry-level technology jobs paying around $40,000 a year, like software specialists who answer questions from I.B.M.’s business customers or “deskside support” workers who answer calls from PC users,” reports the Times. Students aren’t guaranteed a job at IBM, but they should have skills required by many companies as well as the opportunity to earn a bachelor’s degree in two years.

Each student also is paired with an IBM mentor and visits the company’s offices and labs. The principal also has an IBM mentor. The company helped train the school’s teachers and funds a full-time liaison to work with college faculty, who also helped develop the curriculum.

Chicago plans six-year high schools

Chicago will open as many as five high-school, community-college hybrids next fall, reports the Chicago Tribune. Students could enroll for up to six years to earn a high school diploma and associate degree in technical fields.

IBM is giving Chicago a $400,000 grant and helping develop the schools,which will be modeled on New York City’s newly opened Pathways in Technology Early College High School. P-Tech is a partnership between IBM, the New York City College of Technology and the City University of New York.

IBM will recruit Chicago Public Schools teachers who want to be trained to work in the new schools.

“If we’re going to really meet our commitment to young people to say, ‘You’re going to be prepared for entry-level jobs in a good-paying career, not just a job that leads to a dead end,’ they’re going to need an associate’s degree,” said Robin Willner, an IBM executive who’s overseeing the Chicago initiative. “This is not about narrowing a student’s opportunity. It’s saying not only will you be first in line for a job at IBM, but also prepared for an IT career (elsewhere).”

The P-Tech model assumes that some students will go on to earn a bachelor’s degree, while others will be able to start a career immediately.

Pathways to learning, careers

Students need new options beyond a four-year college for all, write Stanley S. Litow, president of the IBM Foundation, and Robert B. Schwartz,  academic dean at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and co-author of the Pathways to Prosperity report. New York City is opening a model school that will take students from ninth through “14th grade.”

. . . while preparing for college has become the nearly exclusive focus of educators, the fact is that seven in 10 Americans don’t earn a bachelor’s degree by their mid-20s. Moreover, only slightly more than 20 percent of students who enroll in community colleges obtain a two-year associate degree, even after three years. . . . roughly one-third of new jobs over the next decade will require some form of postsecondary education or training but not necessarily a bachelor’s degree.

Pathways in Technology Early College High School, or P-TECH, is a collaboration between the New York City schools, City University of New York (CUNY), New York City College of Technology (City Tech) and IBM. Students will have the opportunity to complete a high school diploma and an associate degree in applied science. Some will go on to a four-year institution, while others will be first in line for a job at IBM or other companies with a demand for IT workers.

Students will begin earning college credit in the 9th grade through a curriculum that combines the best in STEM education—or science, technology, engineering, and math. As part of this program, students will be immersed in project-based and workplace learning experiences that will provide them with academic and career skills. The focus is on mastery, not seat time, so students who excel can earn their degrees at an accelerated pace. Because the demands will be great, students will be supported with mentoring and extended-day and summer learning opportunities.

IBM will provide information for curriculum development by defining the skills it seeks in new IT hires with an associate in applied science degree.

The city hopes to open similar schools focused on health, banking and other fields where industry partners are available.