Target: career training

Career and technical education addresses the skills gap
courtesy photos
An advanced manufacturing student at the Huot Technical Center in Laconia operates CNC equipment.

Each year, over 200 students from Laconia and surrounding communities graduate from high school with a level of trade knowledge that could easily guide them on a career path. 

“Our graduates often leave with credentials and certifications usually reserved for working professionals,” says David Warrender, director of career and technical education at the Huot Technical Center, located on Laconia High School’s campus. “Our plumbing and heating students, for example, enter the state apprenticeship program with second-year status, making them much more employable.”

More than 400 juniors and seniors take advantage of the 12 career and technical education (or CTE) programs offered at Huot, ranging from biomedical technology to pre-engineering to the digital media arts.

This year, Huot held a job fair with local employers. It was an optional event held just days before graduation, with seniors’ course requirements and marching practice complete, but many well-dressed students filled the large dining room, says Warrender.

“It’s a different caliber of student preparedness, and I think the employers really appreciate that,” he says.

Not only do students have the technical skills, but they’ve also learned the soft skills employers seek: problem solving, seeing a project through completion and a professional demeanor. 

“If they never work in their industry for a day, but they can use those skills, that’s a success,” says Warrender.

Industry input

Biomedical technology students work with donated samples at the Huot Technical Center.

“CTE by design is well-positioned to help with the economic needs of the state very directly,” says Eric Feldborg, ‎director of career and technical education for the state Department of Education. “When you look at the list of programs in New Hampshire, it’s everything from accounting to welding, white-collar careers to blue-collar careers, and all of the CTE programs lead to high wages and high demand jobs.”

Programs are updated based on input from a program advisory committee that consists of the program instructor at the high school, local industry representatives and a post-secondary instructor from a nearby college. Warrender calls advisory committees the primary mechanism to connect education and industry. 

In Keene, the Cheshire Career Center works with local manufacturers including Maxcess International, G.S. Precision Inc., Electronic Imaging Materials Inc. and Markem-Imaje Corp.

At Cheshire – which has 700 participating students in 17 different programs – machine tool students use Haas computer numerated control (CNC) machines to make business card holders, hammers or more complicated projects like building a part that broke in the TV studio. 

“Every manufacturer has a different product so what we try to do here is make sure [the students] know the machines and the measurements and the tooling that go with it so they can go into one of the manufacturing shops and excel there,” says Lisa Danley, director of the center.

Manufacturers are very eager to get involved with the center and offer internship opportunities, says Danley. “They understand they’ve got to start getting the next generation going because this is a graying generation that are in these manufacturing workplaces now.”

Industry partners not only advise on the curriculum, provide student internships and ensure equipment is up-to-date, but they also can come to the CTE center’s aid when equipment breaks or may donate valuable materials.

Adimab in West Lebanon recently donated some $2,000 worth of samples for Huot’s biomedical technology program, says Warrender.

“Right now, we need to get a number of our scales and equipment calibrated in health science, which we could throw that out to a company and it would cost hundreds of dollars,” says Warrender, but Lakes Regional General Hospital will do it for free. 

Likewise, the NH Home Builders Association is supporting a tiny house project for the building construction program, which doesn’t have the time to build offsite, so students will work on a house on the back of a truck that will be shipped off once it’s done. 

While advisory committee members are typically local, that’s not the case for programs in emerging industries. Huot’s biomedical technology advisory committee typically meets electronically since they’re spaced out across the state, in the Upper Valley or near Portsmouth, where partner Lonza Biologics is located.

An automotive tech student at the Huot Technical Center uses a scan tool to troubleshoot a vehicle.

‘Balancing act’

In New Hampshire, CTE programs are scheduled into 90-minute blocks.

“We’re very efficient and we get a lot done in a block, but it’s not the current high school model you’ll see in other parts of the country,” says Warrender. “The bad [side] is there are certain types of projects we can’t do. The benefit is lots and lots of kids can participate.” 

Exposing a variety of students to the program is important, says Warrender. 

“It’s a balancing act because on one hand you want to have the integrity and carve out the maximum teaching time for CTE, but on the other hand you don’t want to create a schedule that requires so much of the student’s time that they can’t participate because of their graduation requirements,” he argues.

But the short block also poses a challenge for students in sending areas, such as Franklin, who have a 30-minute ride to the center. 

“What limits the Huot Center most of all is, and we respect this, but some of our sending districts have budget issues and there is a cost to sending the kids to the Huot Center,” says Warrender. “That has to do with how much money the Legislature is appropriating to the CTE reimbursement.” 

The Legislature appropriated $7.4 million each school year in the 2016-17 biennium budget, however, Caitlin Davis, an internal auditor at the state Department of Education, says she will once again be requesting $11 million – the amount needed to pay school districts in full for CTE  participation – a week from now when all state agencies submit their 2018-19 funding requests to the governor.

“It’s one of the biggest barriers to student participation,” says Warrender. “We saw a loss of kids in manufacturing [technology] because one of the schools stopped sending as many kids, and they were a huge feeder into our manufacturing program, so that definitely hurt it.” Warrender thinks the center could add nearly 100 students to its program, which currently has about 400.

Career paths

But there are others barriers to participation, mainly making students aware of their career options and convincing the adults around them of the value of trade technical skills.

“I would say it still is a challenge for the high schools to understand the value of these career paths. They may designate a person saying they’re not going to college so we’ll send them to the Cheshire Career Center and that’s not the case,” says Danley. “Every one of our programs offers college credit, and we partner with all of the community colleges to not only get dual enrollment but to have the next step in education.”

Mark Dodge, professor and program coordinator of the precision manufacturing program at Nashua Community College, organized a meeting of guidance counselors from some surrounding high schools in June. (He’ll quickly tell you he got the idea from Doug Cullen, a career counselor at Pinkerton Academy.)

“They don’t know what a modern machine shop looks like,” says Dodge. Paid with a stipend from a grant the college received, school counselors from Alvirne, Pinkerton, Manchester Central, Manchester High School West and Milford attended the event. 

“It was a big success. All of the participants enjoyed it,” says Dodge. Counselors were introduced to former students working in their field and industry partner Rapid Machining before entering the machining lab, where they learned how to program the CNC mill to engrave their names into nameplates.

“Our real goal is Nashua High School [North and South]. Right now, their program is on hold for a year, and my real goal is to get their school counselors to come here and do it in the spring,” Dodge says. “We should have a hundred from Nashua every year.” 

“Part of what’s been happening here at ConVal [High School in Peterborough] is our CTE department has been somewhat separate from our school department, and we’ve been working to build a bridge,” says Kim Chandler, ConVal’s director of school counseling. “[In October] we’ll be partnering with Conant [High School in Jaffrey] to bring students to NH Ball Bearings, Graphicast and Millipore. And the great part about that, now that I’m part of that process, my counseling department will be going as well. We’ve never been invited before.”

“The difficulty isn’t so much the counselors, that they don’t support CTE because they do, but the students have so many options available to them, and the reality is in a lot of cases the students aren’t getting the encouragement to take the courses offered in CTE from their parent,” says Donald Jalbert, director of technical studies at Milford High School.

“I think there’s always work to be done and to improve the understanding of the rigor of our programs, but we work hard on that,” says Warrender. “I think the key is to get the folks in there, and we have worked really hard in that.”

But, he adds, “I would say the guidance counselors are the not the barrier here at Huot. I think if finances and scheduling weren’t in the way, they would send as many students as they can.”  

Correction: Adimab donated $2,000 in equipment to the Huot Technical Center. The article incorrectly listed it as $200,000.

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