Vocational-Technical Schools and Businesses Strengthening the State’s Economy
Pioneer Institute paper reports on growing partnerships to meet the skills shortage
BOSTON – Massachusetts manufacturers and small businesses are offsetting an acute skilled labor shortage through collaborations with the state’s vocational-technical high schools, investing in their programs to produce trained graduates while the students benefit from increased employment opportunities, according to a new report published by Pioneer Institute.
“To help prepare students for jobs after graduation, local business people are offering their talents as advisory board members,” said Jim Stergios, Executive Director of Pioneer Institute. “They’re donating equipment to schools and providing funds for startups.”
The 20-page report, Filling the Skills Gap: Massachusetts Vocational-Technical Schools and Business Partnerships, includes case studies from four vocational-technical high schools: McCann Technical School in North Adams; Franklin County Technical School in Turners Falls; Nashoba Valley Technical High School in Westford; and Westfield Vocational-Technical High School in Westfield. Each demonstrates the unique relationship these schools have with the companies in their regions and their vital place in the local economy.
“Partnerships with business and industry make us acutely aware of the skills that employees must have to allow companies to compete in today’s global economy,” said David Ferreira, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Association of Vocational Administrators. “This collaboration ensures that our graduates are both college and career ready.”
The report is written by Blackstone Valley Technical High School administrator Alison L. Fraser and William Donovan, a former reporter for the Providence Journal. The research notes that, through these collaborations, companies are creating a pipeline for talented graduates at a time when many are trying to expand production, even as their current personnel are retiring. It’s estimated that 100,000 skilled advanced manufacturing positions will be created before 2020. More than 7,000 manufacturing firms have operations in the Bay State, creating 250,000 jobs with an average annual salary of $75,000.
Historically, vocational-technical schools were considered ideal for non-academic oriented students. That perception has changed. More than 60 percent of Massachusetts’ vocational-technical students go on to post-secondary education. Yet they still offer their combination of classwork with practical application in an array of majors including carpentry, biotechnology, auto-tech, advanced manufacturing and health services, among others.
Massachusetts vocational-technical high schools also have lower dropout rates than comparable traditional high schools. In 2012-2013 the statewide dropout rate at regular/comprehensive high schools averaged 2.2 percent. But the rate was only 1.1 percent among the state’s 39 vocational-technical schools and the average among the regional vocational schools was even lower at 0.7 percent.
The report includes several recommendations on enhancing partnerships between vocational-technical schools and businesses, as well as bolstering vocational-technical education more broadly. They include:
- Make the vocational-technical school model, with its alternating academic and technical/shop weeks, available to the one-third of Massachusetts cities and towns that do not belong to a regional vocational-technical district.
- Continue administrative and legislative funding support for grants and training programs for technical programs at vocational-technical schools to keep developing the skilled employees Massachusetts industries need. Meanwhile manufacturing and business groups should look to grow their advisory roles into public-private partnerships.
- Change any district policies that make vocational-technical education a random or neighborhood choice among all other high schools in a district.
The paper also highlights the role of state government in working with business leaders to support vocational-technical education. In particular, Mass Development’s AMP it up! campaign informs students, teachers and parents about careers in advanced manufacturing, while the Mass Life Sciences Center has supported vocational-technical schools starting up engineering programs, along with life sciences technology and research.
Pioneer Institute is an independent, non-partisan, privately funded research organization that seeks to improve the quality of life in Massachusetts through civic discourse and intellectually rigorous, data-driven public policy solutions based on free market principles, individual liberty and responsibility, and the ideal of effective, limited and accountable government.