You can ask almost anyone and they’ll tell you it’s true: the skilled trades are short on manpower.

A March report from the Washington state group PeopleReady Skilled Trades found that while apprenticeships and available jobs in industries like plumbing, roofing, carpentry and construction were increasing, sometimes by up to 50% in one month, the positions were not filled for a month or more.

In the Mass., This shortage is played out in part in the technical and vocational high schools of the State, which face increased demand despite the shortages reported. According to a presentation made in February at a special meeting of the Council for Primary and Secondary Education, some 18,560 completed applications were submitted to enroll in ninth grade in 58 schools and vocational programs in the last academic year. . Of these applications, 12,454 received an offer of admission, with 9,951 students enrolled as of October 1.

Based on these figures, only around 56% of applicants with full applications were offered admission, with slightly less than that ultimately signed up. In other words, according to the presentation at the BESE meeting, there were 1.75 applications for every place available in a professional program.

Numbers like these have fueled questions about who gets admitted to the state’s highly sought-after professional programs, the rules for applying, and what these students will do after enrollment is complete. In response primarily to the first, BESE on June 22 approved changes to its regulations regarding professional admission procedures, relaxing admission criteria and requiring schools to actively work to ensure that their admission policies include strategies for attracting and enrolling a student body, which has an academic and demographic profile of the cities from which vocational schools draw students. In short, the new rules lower the requirements for academic excellence.

The changes have divided stakeholders in the state’s vocational and technical education programming, some of whom say the changes did not go far enough – arguing for a comprehensive lottery system not prioritizing to academic superiority or social standing, and others who say that students who are academically strong and interested in furthering their professional education in college should not be barred from admission to do so.

Workforce Development

“It’s frustrating and I think we’ve finally gotten to the point where something needs to be done,” said Jeannie Hebert, President and CEO of the Blackstone Valley Chamber of Commerce and the force behind the Blackstone Valley Educational Hub based. in Northbridge. “They became elite schools, and that wasn’t what they were meant to be.

Jeannie Hebert, President and CEO, Blackstone Valley Chamber

Hebert said vocational schools fell from their original intent. These programs were designed to teach students who were not academically bright but who were interested in learning the trades, including students with learning disabilities and other special needs.

Indeed, economically disadvantaged students and students with disabilities attend vocational schools at slightly higher rates than statewide, according to the February report. However, in 2020, students of color were attending vocational schools at a rate of 39% compared to 43% of schools in the state. English language learners attended vocational schools at a rate of 6%, compared to 10% in the Commonwealth as a whole. The same BESE presentation indicated that students of color and English language learners apply to vocational schools at lower rates than their counterparts, with fewer acceptances and enrollments.

Collegiate rates

While vocational and technical schools have in some cases become institutions of attraction, their occasional penchant for academic excellence has made them vulnerable to criticism, their priorities are not in the right place.

The tension creates a double-edged sword: No one wants students in vocational schools to fail on their own, but some argue that great academic results miss the point.

At Blackstone Valley Regional Technical High School, the only vocational school in central Massachusetts to send students to college at a rate above state figures, the student body is graduating at rates of up to 100% , with the lowest recent graduation rate recorded at 98.4%, according to the school’s 2020 report card, maintained by DESE. Statewide in the same year, graduation rates were 88%.

At the same time, 78.7% of its 2019 graduates have enrolled in post-secondary education programs, compared to 72% of students statewide, with 73.8% of students attending four-year college, compared to 55.7% of students in Massachusetts.

Worcester Technical High School also enjoys a higher graduation rate than high schools in the state, with 98.4% of four-year study in 2019. However, Worcester Tech students do not attend high school programs. post-secondary education at higher rates than graduate students statewide. In 2019, 64.2% of graduates continued their education, with only 41.5% in a four-year school.

Timothy Murray, president and CEO of the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce and former lieutenant governor, does not think it is the job of professional regulatory bodies to challenge students who choose to pursue their professional training and attend the university, rather than entering the job market directly.

Timothy Murray, President and CEO, Worcester Regional Chamber

“We can do both,” Murray said. “We can walk and chew gum. “

More people are going to college in all fields, he said, and instituting a lottery would still leave applicants rejected from vocational training programs.

In his view, the most important step in addressing waiting lists and boosting the trades workforce is to expand vocational training programs, both by building new schools and adding vocational and technical training opportunities in schools. The latter is particularly useful, he said, when comprehensive high schools add programs that complement, rather than compete with, their local vocational school.

“Any child or family who wants to access a Chapter 74 program should have it because it’s the way of the future,” Murray said.

Although stakeholders vary depending on whether they think it is appropriate for vocational schools to graduate large numbers of university students, most people agree that vocational programs should be extended, in general, that whether through building new schools, public-private partnerships, hybrid programs like Blackstone Valley Ed Hub, which provides training to more population groups than just high school students, or adding to comprehensive schools pre-existing.

“There is obviously a challenge here, with the provision of high-level education, what we know to be vocational education. We have seen the success of vocational schools, ”said Jeffrey Turgeon, executive director of the MassHire Central Region Workforce Board. “So the challenge is how to extend that? “

Ultimately, the goal should be to provide the opportunity to have vocational training for those who want it, which could then reduce waiting lists at local schools, Turgeon said.


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