Pivotal role of vocational education
According to U.S. Department of Labor statistics, the stagnant manufacturing industry has enjoyed a comeback in the state and nation, and the main factor jeopardizing that growth is a lack of skilled labor. The decline of the industry created a gap between the pre-collapse skilled machinists who lack computer skills and the post-collapse work force that is computer-savvy but lacking in machining skills. Enter state of the art vocational education.
Manufacturing and health care are the two fields with the greatest need for workers in the state, and both provide well-paying jobs. The health field, however, is having an easier time finding qualified people to fill these jobs than is manufacturing. According to a recent Boston Globe story, Tell Tool Incorporated in nearby Westfield recently held an open house to recruit new employees and of the 80 prospective workers only two had the necessary skills. Berkshire Manufactured Products — a company that makes precision machine components and which sadly is located in Newburyport, not the Berkshires — recently won an aerospace contract that required the purchase of a new machine but has been unable to find machinists qualified to operate it.
These situations are not uncommon. If capable manufacturing workers can’t be found, manufacturers will be forced to leave the state and no manufacturers will consider coming to Massachusetts. With unemployment high it is shameful that stable well-paying jobs are going unfilled because of a lack of skilled applicants.
In today’s high-tech manufacturing world, traditional shop skills are valuable but must be combined with the computer skills that are becoming a prerequisite for almost every kind of job beyond manual labor. The gap mentioned earlier threatens to swallow whole this promising growth industry unless qualified workers can be trained to fill it.
McCann Tech in North Adams is doing its part as are both Pittsfield and Taconic high schools. They offer high-tech programs in electronics, graphic arts, auto mechanics and other fields. But what could a newly designed vocational school tailored specifically to meet the needs of high-tech businesses accomplish?
As has been discussed in the city, a new Taconic High School replacing the severely limited current Taconic could be that school. It would be a great draw for the city, which is trying to negate losses to other districts under school choice. The school could continue within the school district, although at an editorial board meeting with The Eagle last week, Jamie Gass, the director of the Center for School Reform at the Boston-based Pioneer Institute, said that regional schools, because they have more autonomy, tend to have higher academic rates and fewer dropouts.
To regionalize or not is an issue for another day. What appears undeniable is that a state of the art vocational school could benefit the city, state, students and the manufacturing community.
Also seen in Berkshire Eagle Online.