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  ·   By Trisha Thadani, Worcester Telegram & Gazette   ·  Link to Article

Educators, employers laud state plan to boost voke school funding

BOSTON – Lawmakers joined with education advocates Tuesday in support of Gov. Charles D. Baker Jr.’s plan for funding the state’s public vocational technical schools, which are lauded as potential job creation engines but must waitlist thousands of students each year.

Former Lt. Gov. Timothy P. Murray said there are more than 3,000 students on waiting lists for vocational high schools across the state. He said Worcester Technical High School, a “national model for vocational schools,” has about 300 to 400 students on its waiting list.

“As vocational technical schools have increased in people’s minds … they become increasingly sought after,” said Mr. Murray, a former Worcester mayor and now head of the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce. “In many of our gateway cities and in immigrant families, the idea of a job and having a tangible skill is the fastest way to realizing the American dream.”

Career and vocational-technical schools and programs currently serve 20 percent of high school students in Massachusetts, according to the Alliance for Technical Education. Such schools and programs provide students with standard academics, as well as train them in specific skills, such as manufacturing and cooking.

The alliance supports the additional vocational school funding that Mr. Baker included in his economic development bill, which includes a $75 million investment in career and technical schools.

According to a January study by the Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy at Northeastern University, the longest waiting lists for vocational schools as of October were in many of the state’s Gateway Cities, including Worcester and Fitchburg.

Barry Bluestone, an author of the study, said workforce training is a major challenge facing the state’s economy. The study indicates that Massachusetts will need tens of thousands more workers for jobs in construction, health care and manufacturing within the next decade.

“Those are the kinds of jobs that people learn how to do in our regional vocational high schools,” Mr. Bluestone said at the briefing. “Vocational education is the key to our future.”

Steven Tamasi, the CEO of Boston Centerless, a manufacturing company, said many of his employees come from vocational high schools. These employees, he said, are well equipped with the appropriate technical thinking and skills required in entry-level jobs.

“We’re very happy that the government has recognized this need that we’ve seen for decades now, because that is only going to expand,” Mr. Tamasi said. “There are whole industries that we don’t know of today that are going to be very technical in nature because of the digitization of this world.”

Housing and Economic Development Secretary Jay Ash, and state Sens. Linda Dorcena Forry, D-Dorchester, and Eileen Donoghue, D-Lowell, were among those who spoke at the Statehouse briefing for the alliance.

Ms. Donoghue said the governor’s economic development plan is a good first step to tackling the impending labor shortage in the state. The proposed funding would help shorten waiting list times by increasing seat capacity in the state’s existing vocational schools, she said.

“We know that there is a shortage of skilled workers … and it is sobering when you think about the challenges ahead,” she said. “In some respect, it’s a nice problem to have that you have an abundance of work and you need to get people trained up for the future. Nonetheless, it is a gargantuan task.”

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