In Their Opinion...

Colin Read chairs the finance and economics faculty at SUNY Plattsburgh and has published a dozen books on local and global finance and economics. He also runs an economic and business consulting company, and can be reached through his website

Technical training a key part of education

By: Colin Read, Everybody's Business

---- — Clinton County has a system of vocational training that some of you may not have heard about. National educational leaders have taken notice, though.

The New York State Legislature established the Boards of Cooperative Education Services (BOCES) just after World War II as a way to help school districts share resources and provide alternative educational and vocational training to students who may not be college bound. Since then, the system has evolved in our region as Champlain Valley Educational Services. They have developed a variety of technical and vocational training opportunities through their CV-TEC technical and career education entity.

CV-TEC has just been awarded a huge recognition for what they do. They have received national accreditation from the Council on Occupational Education, the leading accrediting body for vocational programs of their sort.

I should perhaps be more precise. Normally, the Council on Occupational Education does not accredit programs that primarily serve high school aged students. CV-TEC also has adult learners, those that need retraining, and even evening programs to fill some badly needed workforce needs in our community. But, it is also the major trainer of school-aged students seeking good-paying careers right here in Clinton County, and does so as well as the best vocational colleges nationwide.

Education has become siloed and beleaguered over the past decade or so. Every one of us can recall a teacher that made a real difference in our lives. But, the organization of education sometimes diverges from its mission to bring gifted teachers together with eager students to create a well-trained and fulfilled citizenry and workforce.

Not all students ought to be college-bound, although every student needs some advanced training these days. That is where CV-TEC steps in. It provides skilled teachers and well-equipped facilities so students can gain skills in everything from aircraft repair to welding (sorry, no zookeeping yet).

These programs cost money. The sponsoring school that sends one of their students to CVES must also transfer about $8,000 to help pay for this highly specialized education. That is out of their share of about $18,000 the state and our localities pay the districts per student. Obviously, in these tight times, more districts are reluctant to send their students, and that sum, to another educator.

The $8,000 annual investment per student for a couple of years of training is a good investment indeed. It will pay for itself perhaps in just a single year of additional salary if a student is eligible for a good job as a welder or aircraft mechanic. However, despite this amazing return on investment, and despite the national recognition that very few such programs have been able to garner, the way we silo and fund American education is increasingly frustrating such novel approaches.

I find the headwind vocational training currently suffers as ironic, and perhaps even a national security threat. Our nations no longer compete based on the armies we can muster, but rather the creativity we can foster. Now, to survive, nations and regions alike must be able to compete smart and provide very well trained young people with 21st Century skills.

We often lament that our manufacturing is becoming less competitive, not enough students are finishing school, there are too many young people vying for jobs that require little training, and hence they keep wages artificially low, and advanced manufacturing employers cannot find enough skilled workers.

Advanced technical training helps remedy each of these problems. Yet, there remains a surprising stigma about the sort of jobs we need to wire our homes, fix our computers or maintain our vehicles. And, we have not developed a will to solve the problem of siloed education that makes one educational sector unwilling to financially encourage another.

We set things up for failure because we could once afford to. Now, we must rally together to focus not on what is good for a particular school district, but what is good for us all, and for every student. They all deserve a good education in some area our economy needs. It should not matter if they are not college bound. We need the student. And, we have excellent educators of all sorts right here in Clinton County.

Colin Read chairs the finance and economics faculty at SUNY Plattsburgh and has published a dozen books on local and global finance and economics.