As work changes, industry and education work together to adapt

The Enterprise — Sean Mulkerrin
Jared Heidinger, a junior from Guilderland, is enrolled in the Capital Region Career & Technical School welding program. 

ALBANY COUNTY — After graduating from the welding program at the Capital Region Career & Technical School in Albany, Don Mattoon didn’t realize that he was ready to enter the workforce. So like three-quarters of graduates from the school, he pursued a post-secondary education at Modern Welding School in Schenectady.

“I wasn’t confident, so I went to welding school after high school,” Mattoon said.

But what Mattoon didn’t know was that he had been prepared.

“When I was there, the instructor said to me, ‘What are you doing here?’ and I said, I thought that this was the next step. And he told me that I could have went and got a job right out of high school,” Mattoon said.

“I wish somebody would have told me that back then, and I would have saved myself $12,000,” he said with a laugh.

And so, after a decade of working in the industry — and becoming the father of triplets — Mattoon decided the life of a nomadic welder no longer suited him, but he also wanted to give back. In August 2017,  he was hired as the welding instructor at his alma mater.

“I had such a great experience here,” Mattoon said. “I always thought that this would be such a great place to land and, once the opportunity presented itself, I was fully on board to give back and teach the kids what I learned.”

Most importantly, he was to give them confidence — confidence to succeed at their chosen trade even without further schooling.

“The options for these kids are unlimited,” he said. “It’s not just welding, it’s also engineering — welding is just a small part of the puzzle.”

Matton has become a textbook example of what what success without a traditional four-year college degree looks like.

And now, with not enough workers to fill technical jobs, some educators see good reason to change the mantra that high school should lead to college.

James Haas, the work-based learning coordinator at the Capital Region Career & Technical School, defines it as the “some college” problem.

“What is occurring is that there is a huge amount of our society that has what we call ‘some college,’ which means that they have debt, and no certification — instead, they took psychology and English classes and have no usable skills,” Haas said.

This has led to a scarcity of workers with the specific skills required by employers.

Eighty-six percent of high school graduates go on to some kind of post-secondary education, but only 30 percent of those students are graduating on time with a degree, he said. And, according to the United States Department of Education, only 59 percent graduate within six years.

The problem of “some college,” and the false promise that a college degree is a ticket to the middle class, has led to millions of young adults slowly suffocating under the weight of $1.36 trillion of cumulative student-loan debt, retarding an entire generation’s entry into adulthood.

And yet, the demand for “middle-skills” jobs — jobs that require more education and training than a high school diploma but less than a four-year degree — remains stubbornly high.

One report, from Harvard Business School, found that businesses’ “inability to attract and retain middle-skill talent frequently affected performance,” and that the inadequate availability of middle-skilled workers affected productivity.

So what’s to be done?  

Starting them young and erasing tired ideas

The Board of Cooperative Educational Services’ Capital Region Career and Technical School offers 36 career-based programs and educates over 1,000 juniors and seniors on its Albany, Mohonasen, and Schoharie campuses, as well as in its classrooms in the State Education building, and at Ellis and St Peter's hospitals.

The 24 cooperative districts in Capital Region BOCES pay a per-pupil cost for each student who attends a CTE program, which is approximately $12,000 per pupil.

What makes BOCES so cost effective for schools is what is known as BOCES Aid, which is state aid that is based on the amount of services purchased by cooperative districts from BOCES.

BOCES Aid is determined by relative wealth, so the wealthier a district is, the less BOCES Aid it receives, and conversely, the poorer a district is, the more BOCES Aid it receives.

Guilderland, for example, has a relative-wealth ratio of about 55 percent. So, if $1,000 were spent on student tuition, then the following year the district would receive about $550 back from the state.

Locally, 23 juniors and seniors, or about 11.5 percent, from Voorheesville; 79, or 10 percent, from Guilderland; and 42, or 33 percent, from Berne-Knox-Westerlo attend classes at BOCES CTE.

The number of BOCES students increases as outdated ideas — that vo-tech is a repository for those who couldn’t succeed at college — decline.  

Dr. Mark Pitterson, the principal of BKW’s secondary school, said that, contrary to what many may think of a vocational-technical education, he hears from many parents who want to get their child into a CTE program.

“We’ve always had a group of students in our school district who are interested in this form of education,” said Brian Hunt, the superintendent of the Voorheesville Central School District. “And I found the board [of education] and the community to be very supportive of it — especially because we have new career fields emerging.” Hunt said.

He highlighted the program that teaches students video-game design, three-dimensional modeling, and computer programming. “That’s a field that has emerged ... and it’s also a good career field.”

Marie Wiles, superintendent of the Guilderland Central School District, said that the stigma around vocational education has “absolutely evolved.”

She asked, “Can I say 100 percent evolved?”

Before coming to Guilderland, Wiles was a BOCES superintendent in central New York, and she said that she remembers having conversations with faculty about overcoming that sense that “if you are going to career and technical education you are somehow not having as rigorous an experience as students who stay in their home schools.”

She points to the high-tech careers like manufacturing and machining technology that demand an expertise that can be developed in CTE program as well as the rigorous coursework involved in learning those skills. “The stereotype is fading away — quickly, and I think that’s fantastic,” she said.  

Current nursing students Tess Leiby, from Schalmont, and Cassandra Bowers, from Burnt Hills, both said that they don’t hear negative comments from other students about being in a CTE program. “Usually we don't get any type of reaction when we tell kids where we’re going for our classes,” said Leiby.

To start, 75 percent of CTE students go on to some kind of post-secondary training or college, according to Michael McCagg, the spokesman for the Capital Region Career & Technical School.

“I see it in the Northeast especially, the emphasis or over emphasis is on college,” said McCagg. “There’s a stigma in the region about looking for a career in the middle-skills category.”

But there are jobs, McCagg said, where a student with a high school diploma or a couple of years of technical school can earn $50,000 or more.  

“But students don’t hear that from their guidance counselors or from their parents,” he said.

“For many, many years, the push in the United States and in New York State has been, ‘To get ahead in this world you need a college education,’” said Career and Technical Education Programs deputy director Valerie Kelsey. “The aftermath of that is, ‘Well if you don't get a college education then you won’t get to be middle-class or above.’ But now we are seeing such a huge skills gap.”

The local economy

A 2015 report from state’s Department of Labor sought to assist local workforce investment boards, which direct federal, state, and local funding to workforce development programs, by identifying “significant industries” in the Capital Region so that the boards could concentrate their resources on these industries.

The report noted that the “significant industries” shared one or more of these characteristics: The number of jobs in the industry exceeded 5,000; they had experienced growth; wages were above the regional average of $48,600; or there was strong expected growth through 2022.

“Significant industry” fell into six groups: Construction; manufacturing; trade, transportation, and utilities; finance and insurance; professional and business services; and health care.

According to the report, of the 508,1oo workers employed in the Capital Region in 2015, approximately 129,700 workers worked in “significant industries.”

Most of the remaining 378,000 workers were employed in government (111,000) or in low-paid, low-skill jobs such as accomodation and food services (40,000); retail (59,000); arts, entertainment, and recreation (8,000); or in jobs that paid more than low-skilled jobs but still less than the total industry average wage of $47,307, like jobs in transportation and warehousing (11,000); and administrative and waste services (18,000).



Traditional and new middle skills

Since everyone can’t work for government, and jobs in food service, retail, and the administrative and waste services (think security guards, janitors, and admins) don’t offer much of a future, it is in a number of those “significant industry” jobs that can be described as middle-skill where the Capital Region Career & Technical School is making its mark.

Middle-skill jobs account for nearly half of all current jobs in New York State, according to a report from the National Skills Coalition, a not-for-profit  organization made up business, labor, community colleges, and community-based organizations that advocates for workforce education and training policies.



BOCES offers courses in carpentry; electrical work; heating, ventilation, air-conditioning and refrigeration (HVAC/R); masonry; welding; and heavy-equipment operation in which high school students — as well as adult students — learn skills to earn a very good living.

Stephen Zwack, for example, was a student at Berne-Knox-Westerlo before having to drop out to take care of his family. He was breaking his back because he was breaking rocks for a living — literally. Zwack had found work in a rock quarry, but that life was untenable.

A man in his early 30s who didn’t graduate from high school did not have many options, so he took control and earned his high school equivalency diploma through the Capital Region BOCES.

He entered the adult HVAC/R program after earning his diploma and flourished. McCagg said that Zwack was being offered jobs before he had completed the program.

“Good jobs, too,” McCagg said. “Jobs that pay $50,000 or $60,000 and, in some cases, over $70,000.” But Zwack decided to stick with the program. He now has a job with the state.

While the building trades are a traditional career that people think of when they hear vo-tech, with 300 business partners serving 17 different advisory programs, more and more, Capital Region BOCES Career & Technical School students are working for — and being aggressively courted by — companies on the cutting edge of technology.


The Enterprise — Sean Mulkerrin
A hands-on education: Cassandra Bowers, a nursing student at the Capital Region Career & Technical School, said that she joined the nursing program because she wants to help others as well as carry on a family tradition.



GlobalFoundries — a multinational company that makes semiconductors for smartphones, laptops, and other computer devices — had an enviable problem: Business was booming.

The company invested $13 billion — a majority of that money has been used to purchase sophisticated manufacturing tools — in its plant in Saratoga County, which employs about 3,000 people in two large manufacturing clean rooms.

A clean room is a controlled environment that has few pollutants and is used when small particles can hurt the manufacturing process, as when making highly-valuable and highly-delicate semiconductors.

What GlobalFoundries needed was clean-room technicians, maintenance technicians for the company’s wildly expensive manufacturing tools, and production technicians — a lot of them.

Enter the Capital Region BOCES Career & Technical School.

BOCES designed a program built around curriculum provided by GlobalFoundries and created a new job — engineering technician, a middle-skill job in a “significant industry” that pays about $46,000 a year.

At the end of the school year, GlobalFoundries will interview students and, if they are ready, will hire them. The graduates will have the opportunity to work their way up to become engineers, Kelsey said.

“Here’s a way for a kid to get into a phenomenal company that, if you do well, will continue to educate you,” said Kelsey. “This is kind of like the need that the hospitals had with the sterile-processing technicians.”

Local hospital managers were using the term “crisis” when talking about the lack of people they had to perform the vital role of maintaining the cleanliness, functionality, and inventory of their instruments and equipment.

Sterile-processing technicians disinfect and sterilize scalpels and all of the metal tools a surgeon needs so they can be reused for countless surgeries.

Albany BOCES has had three adult classes complete the program; all have jobs with starting pay in the mid-$30,000s.

“If you complete the sterile-processing program and get your certification, you will have a job, 100-percent guaranteed,” said McCagg.

The emergence of the high-tech industry in the Capital Region has created  an environment that fosters partnerships, and allows students to get real experience doing the kind of things they’ll do after high school, said Timothy Mundell, the superintendent of BKW.

“The programs provide technical knowledge, experience, and the opportunity to apply collaborative, critical-thinking or problem-solving skills,” Mundell said. The CTE programs teach creativity and communication skills for the workplace of tomorrow, he added.

“They are using raw and real industry-based experience to practice those skills,” Mundell said.

In addition to teaching students the technical skills they will need to flourish in a job, BOCES CTE programs also put an emphasis on so-called soft skills — the personal attributes a student needs to succeed in the workplace, like  showing up on time and being able to work as part of a team.

“Industry tells us that they would rather have a welder with one year of welding and good employability skills, as opposed to [a worker with] multiple years of welding who is unable to function well in a group setting,” said Kelsey.

Learning a life skill

“I had a girl in the cosmetology program three years ago who had already planned to go to the State University of New York at Oswego and become a broadcast journalist,” McCagg said.

He asked the student why, then, was she in the cosmetology program.

“The student said that she would be able to learn to cut hair and do nails and that way she can pay for her education as she goes instead of accumulating debt,” McCagg said.

“To have a high school sophomore think like that is great, because they have to be willing to give up a full month of their summer before their senior year to get extra training because in New York State you need 1,000 hours to get a cosmetology license,” he said.

“I was absolutely floored; I talk about her every chance that I get,” McCagg added.

Current students and Guilderland residents, Jared Hayes and Jared Heidinger, are learning to weld.

“I was naturally semi-decent at it and just went with it,” Heidinger said of welding.

He said that there isn’t much of a family history when it comes to welding — usually a strong indicator of current participation in CTE programs. Instead, it was Hayes who got him into it. Heidinger’s plan after graduation is to enlist in the military — where there is a family tradition — and work in welding when he gets out.  

The military is one avenue that Hayes is also thinking about.

He said that he would like to join the Navy and learn underwater welding, or, if he chooses college, he’d like to pursue a business degree. “So once I break my back, I can still work,” he said.

Both agreed that a major reason for being in the welding program was to get a life skill.

Mattoon points out that additional education for welding students can open up a lot of doors. “If you have an associate’s degree in applied science, you could become a certified welding inspector — welding inspection is huge,” he said.  A certified welding inspector in New York can make as much as $42 an hour, according to the salary-research site,


“The new state program to provide tuition to state colleges is good, and that helps, but certainly the private-college route is so very expensive; and, I think it does factor into a lot of families’ and students’ considerations of where they might like to go,” said Hunt.

Hunt is referring to the New York State Excelsior Scholarship, which was designed to help make higher education more affordable and accessible, by providing residents who go to a state university full-time with free tuition — with caveats.  

Passed by the state legislature in April 2017, the plan was met with criticism for its narrow scope — about two-thirds of those who applied did not get help, some because their families exceeded the income cap, others because they did not have the grades to qualify, and others because their schooling had been interrupted. And it was thought that the scholarship would help mainly students who had already decided college was in their future, because, to qualify, students must attend school full-time, which would be a problem for low-income students who often have to interrupt their educations.

“Just to think about the career and technical field for a minute,” Hunt said “you could be working right out of high school, but you could also be going to school at night or part-time. It’s kind of a hybrid option for a lot of students.”

“But no question the amount of debt you have to take on to complete a four-year degree now has got to be a consideration for a lot of families,” said Hunt.

Hunt inadvertently highlighted an education model that uses both classroom and on-the-job training and doesn’t leave students with mountains of debt — apprenticeships, where students enter a structured training program of classroom and paid on-the-job training.

Of the 12 “significant industries” in the Capital Region, as many as seven or eight could be learned through an apprenticeship or some combination of CTE and post-secondary technical-school training, which increasingly companies are paying for.

Kerry Chesterfield, the assistant training director of the Tri-City joint apprenticeship committee for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 236, said there are a number of great things that come from learning a job through an apprenticeship, especially a union apprenticeship.

To begin, there aren’t many out-of-pocket costs for union apprentices. Chesterfield said they are responsible for purchasing their own hand tools as well as proper work clothing. Apprentices are also responsible for the purchase of their own books for classroom learning, for which they can earn back the cost if they get good grades.

The five-year apprenticeship program through Local 236 includes 900 hours of classroom instruction and 8,000 hours of on-the-job training.

Chesterfield said students who come from the BOCES CTE are better prepared to succeed in the apprenticeship, which has a failure rate of about 20 percent. Very few of the BOCES CTE graduates fail.

“These students come in and have a firm grasp of the basics as well as some of the fundamental laws of electrical theory,” Chesterfield said. “They have already had some hands-on experience; they’ve made splice, they’ve run wire, installed switches, receptacles, and wired lights.”

Students who complete the five-year apprenticeship can expect to make over $70,000 a year, Chesterfield said. In addition, union electricians earn great health benefits, a pension, and an annuity, and, once they turn 55, if they’ve worked for 35 years, they can retire.

But what makes an apprenticeship like Local 236’s so appealing to potential workers is what makes it as equally unappealing to most businesses — it costs money.

Union apprenticeships are part of a joint labor-management program, where both sides make investments in workers. Each year, according to a study from the Center for American Progress, building-trades unions and their partner contractors invest more than $1 billion in apprentice and journeyman-level training.

So, the first barrier is convincing business to take on the significant cost of hiring apprentices and getting them to see the longer-term benefit to the company — a nearly impossible feat outside of the construction industry and, in the age of turning short-term profit at the expense of even greater payoff in the future.

And while businesses complain about a so-called skills gap between workers and jobs being offered, business is not playing the role in worker training it once did. American companies today invest about half as much in training as they did 10 years ago, according to the study from Center for American Progress.

So, again, what’s to be done?

It’s here — technical training that leads to social mobility — where Republican President Donald Trump and Democratic Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy have, oddly enough, found common ground.

In June 2017, the president signed an executive order that stated: “In today’s rapidly changing economy, it is more important than ever to prepare workers to fill both existing and newly created jobs and to prepare workers for the jobs of the future. Higher education, however, is becoming increasingly unaffordable. Furthermore, many colleges and universities fail to help students graduate with the skills necessary to secure high paying jobs in today’s workforce.  Far too many individuals today find themselves with crushing student debt and no direct connection to jobs.”

The executive order authorized the United States Department of Labor — which originally had sole authority — to permit third parties, such as industry groups, trade associations, companies, and not-for-profits, to certify registered apprenticeship programs.

The executive order said that 350,000 manufacturing jobs were currently available, and that federally funded education and workforce development programs were not effectively serving American workers, despite billions of taxpayer dollars invested in the programs.

By expanding apprenticeships and reforming ineffective education and workforce development programs, the executive order stated, it would help address those issues.

The executive order is not without its detractors — critics argued that the order would undermine quality, wage requirements, the credibility and portability of registered apprenticeship among employers, and would open the door to federal funding without safeguards. But, still, it is a clear acknowledgement of the skills-gap problem that the country is facing.  

In New York, Fahy co-sponsored the Empire State apprenticeship tax credit, which provides tax credits to certified New York State registered apprenticeship program sponsors who hire new and qualified apprentices after Jan. 1, 2018.

A business can receive an annual tax credit for each year that a worker advances through his or her apprenticeship. In the first year of a worker’s apprenticeship, the business can receive a $2,000 tax credit; in the second year of the apprenticeship, it’s $3,000; the third is $4,000; the fourth year is $5,000; and, in the fifth year of a worker’s apprenticeship, the business can receive a $6,000 tax credit.

And if a business hires a disadvantaged youth, it receives a greater tax credit. In the first year, it can be a $5,000 tax credit; in the second year of the apprenticeship, it’s $6,000; and for the third, fourth, and fifth year of a worker’s apprenticeship, the program sponsor can receive a $7,000 tax credit.  

The tax credit is available through 2022.

South Carolina offers a similar, but less generous ($1,000), tax credit through its Apprenticeship Carolina program, which has been hailed as a national model.

In 2001, South Carolina issued a report that said there was a gap between current young adults’ skills and future workforce needs.

Responding to the report, the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce issued a white paper that found apprenticeships were underutilized and made the recommendation for a “systemic structure for encouraging the development of apprenticeship training opportunities statewide.”

Within a few years, the South Carolina Technical College System agreed to create a statewide program, Apprenticeship Carolina. The program was tasked, according to a 2013 study of the program, with building relationships with employers; marketing apprenticeships; assisting with the completion of apprenticeship registration paperwork for the United States Department of Labor; identifying core job competencies; and coordinating curricula for job-related education with the technical college system.

Key for employers: These services were offered free of charge.

According to the 2013 study, before Apprenticeship Carolina’s inception, there were 777 apprentices in the state. After the program was enacted, almost 8,000 new apprentices had been registered.

According to the most recent data from the United States Department of Labor, New York has approximately 16,124 active apprentices.

A risky bet?

Douglas Webber, an associate professor of economics at Temple University, frames the question of the cost and benefit of a college education in a very 21st-Century context — risk and return on investment.

Imagine you are placing a bet on the future success of a marginal student who is attending college, Webber said. It’s a coin flip that student will graduate. It’s a bet Webber would take because the upside outweighs the downside.

Even with the exploding cost of higher education, Webber said that, by earning “virtually any degree,” on average, a student will do better than if they had only a high-school diploma.

“Now that’s also a very low bar,” Webber points out.

When someone asks if a degree pays off, Webber said, they are not thinking that they will be doing slightly better than a high-school graduate. They want to know if that degree will place them in the middle- or upper-class. According to Webber, if that degree is in the arts or humanities, it may not provide the graduate with that upward mobility.

But what Webber is seeing in the arts and humanities is something that they already know over at BOCES Albany; students need some kind of experience.  

“Some sort of training is key to getting that first job or getting your foot in the door,” Webber said.

It used to be that colleges, especially in the arts and humanities, did not take part in any kind of vocational training.

“But now I’m seeing all majors are kind of realizing this is really, really important” said Webber. “And, it’s something that we have to do.”

Where students get into trouble, Webber said, is that they start going to college and take on some debt, and then don’t graduate — also known as the problem of “some college.”

A sure thing?

Mundell is betting that CTE programs can be another way of igniting a student’s intellectual curiosity. He views the high-tech and clean-tech programs offered through CTE combined with the GlobalFoundries program as a catalyst for students who finish their high school career and, instead of going to work, decide that they want to go to engineering school.

“That’s a significant paradigm shift. We’re not thinking of CTE traditionally as, ‘I go for the auto-mechanic program and go to work at Joe’s garage,’” he said.  

In fact, one of the demands GlobalFoundries has is for technicians who can work in different areas, said Nancy Liddle, the business-community liaison at the Capital Region Career and Technical School. “They are very interested in the automotive technicians from Albany.”

Auto-tech students, Liddle said, have mechanical minds that allow them to focus on, and methodically work, tasks.

“My thinking is, send them to the CTE program and through the auto-mechanic program, and students might learn mechanical engineering and stimulate that part of the brain that, when they were a freshman or sophomore never got stimulated because no program was offered,” Mundell said.

“All of a sudden — Boom!” said Mundell. “Something is unlocked and a whole new future is unfolded.”


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