OP/ED: CITY COMPTROLLER & PUBLIC ADVOCATE
Improving Career And Technical Education Programs In New York City
In our information age, the skills gap is widening rapidly. Gone are the days when well-paying jobs were available to unskilled workers. More sophisticated and specific math and computer skills are now essential in almost every field, from medical assistant to mechanic.
And yet, against this backdrop, the City has largely turned a blind eye to the potential of career and technical education to meet the needs of young people, as well as employers.
Notably, state-approved Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs are more successful overall than other high school programs in preventing dropouts and graduating students who can immediately find gainful employment in today’s marketplace.
For example, students who graduate from state approved health care CTE programs can earn $40,000 or more with as little as a high school degree. However, CTE is not only an alternative to a college track curriculum. In fact, most students who complete a CTE course of study go on to two- and four-year colleges. Remarkably, this is true even though CTE students are less affluent, and have less access to out-of-school enrichment and college preparatory programs then other students in the system.
Indeed, when CTE is properly funded and well run, it really works—for both the City and its students. For instance, three high schools in the city currently provide students with Emergency Medical Technician training in Queens, the Bronx and in Brooklyn. These programs appeal to teens eager for an exciting, fast-paced occupation that carries professional respect while helping those in need.
Despite these existing programs, a strong bump in demand is expected due to the growth of medical emergencies as our population increases and baby boomers retire. In addition, the State Department of Labor predicts that between 2004 and 2014, the number of EMT positions in our city will grow by 14 percent. Thus, EMT programs will need additional support in the years to come.
Another area where worker retirements are creating more and more openings is the construction industry. Through the Edward J. Malloy Initiative for Construction Skills, some 70 students from the Class of 2007 will be placed in union apprenticeships within the next six months.
Since its inception the Construction Skills program has placed some 870 students in apprenticeships, with some 83 percent of those men and women still employed in the construction industry. Roughly 87 percent have been African American, Hispanic, Asian or other minorities.
We suspect that much of the success of these programs is directly related to the self-confidence gained by young people who acquire solid, marketable skills. A renewed focus on CTE programs could help provide a remedy for youth who otherwise are at-risk of dropping out of school, and, ultimately, on a path toward joining the ranks of the under- or unemployed.
Before CTE programs can become a priority, however, the new per-pupil funding system must be revised to better reflect the varying costs of individual CTE programs and schools. The Independent Budget Office found that per student spending was lower in vocational schools than at general education schools. Under a new funding formula, some schools received budget increases this year, but many continue to operate with antiquated equipment that must be replaced; in others, computer systems must be upgraded. In addition, specialized instruction requires the ability to attract appropriately trained personnel.
Moreover, while New York City’s employers are crying out for skilled workers, CTE principals have reported that they receive virtually no direct assistance from New York City’s Department of Education (DOE) in establishing partnerships with private industry. These partnerships can lead to internships, apprenticeships, job placements and donations of essential equipment and supplies. They benefit students as well as the employers who gain a steady supply of qualified employees.
Another problem is that while State certification brings greater credibility to CTE programs, the arduous process of achieving State certification is placed almost entirely on the shoulders of CTE principals. These principals are already overburdened by the dual tasks of meeting Regents requirements while ensuring student proficiency in career or technical fields. The DOE must give them appropriate support for achieving the State approval process.
Finally—because of the new Regents graduation requirements and the need to raise many students up to grade-level academic proficiency— five-year graduation should become the standard for some CTE programs and schools, as is the case with Aviation High School in Queens. Many principals feel that this would make their programs more attractive to a larger group of young people.
We anticipate serious shortages in years to come in fields such as healthcare, construction, and automotive technology. Entrance into these industries— which offer gainful, middle-class employment— are within reach of those who acquire the right skills. CTE can give students such skills, but the programs must be well funded and they must be well run. As it stands now, our students—and our city—are being shortchanged.#
William Thompson is New York City Comptroller; Betsy Gotbaum is New York City Public Advocate.