Businesses relying on vo-tech grads to bring skills

By Steve Crawford Special to The Eagle-Tribune

HAVERHILL – Business, community and educational leaders joined vocational students and their parents at Whittier Regional Vocational Technical High School June 3 to highlight the importance of the state’s career and vocational technical education system to the Merrimack Valley and to Massachusetts.

“Trained individuals are needed to keep this economy moving. At the same time, we need to provide opportunities to kids from all backgrounds,” said Joseph J. Bevilacqua, president/CEO, Merrimack Valley Chamber of Commerce. “Vocational and technical education helps us meet both those goals.”

Members of the Alliance for Vocational and Technical Education (AVTE), a broad-based coalition of employers, community-based organizations, educators, and experts, outlined how Career and Vocational Technical Education (CVTE) is essential to economic health in the Merrimack Valley and across the state, and presented policy recommendations to expand access to skills-based education for students and meet the needs of the Commonwealth’s employers.

“We created partnerships with our local vocational technical schools that allow their students to readily transition to the associate degree programs that employers are looking for,” said Lane Glenn, president, Northern Essex Community College.

An average of 3,200 students in Massachusetts schools are on waiting lists for vocational technical high school seats. At the same time, many Massachusetts employers have trouble filling jobs that require technical skills, and anticipate serious vacancies due to a lack of skilled workers in the future, especially as existing workers retire.

An October report by the Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy at Northeastern University found that “the majority of the expected job openings in Massachusetts between now and 2022 will require no more than a vocational education or a community college associate’s degree.”

“Business owners often call to tell us how impressed they are with our graduates,” said Maureen Lynch, Whittier Tech’s superintendent. “And students who go on to college come back with a sense of awe after discovering they were far ahead of their peers.”

“When it really comes down to it, the stuff we’re doing in my college classes now, I did at Whittier for four years,” said Willian Yameen, a recent Whittier Regional Vocational Technical High School graduate. “It gives me a tremendous advantage over the other kids in my class.”

Gov. Baker’s economic development legislation includes a $75 million workforce skills equipment grants program for training equipment in Massachusetts’ career and technical schools, to strengthen workforce skills and create strong employment pipelines. The AVTE’s policy recommendations also include the following:

– Expand utilization of existing Articulation Agreements and Early College High School models that allow students to earn free college credit for courses that they take in high school;

– Maximize seat capacity of existing CVTE schools and programs by encouraging experimentation and providing seed money to support model programs and those showing promise;

– Facilitate best practices and co-developed training models between CVTE and comprehensive high schools;

– Increase investments in CVTE operations to immediately address access for 3200 students on current CVTE waitlist.

“If a student has a general high school diploma, they can’t get a good job, therefore for students to succeed they need access to a skills based education,” said Don Walsh of the Massachusetts Communities Action Network. “Our communities need access to skills-based education for students, and our employers need training of skilled workers for the jobs they must fill.”

“One of the successes of vocational technical education is the ability to meet the labor market demands of business and industry,” said David J. Ferreira, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of Vocational Administrators (MAVA). “The Alliance for Vocational Technical Education recognizes that creating quality workforce development opportunities for emerging careers in our innovation economy is crucial to the economic stability of the Commonwealth. Together we will expand access to vocational technical schools and help prepare the workforce of the future.”

Crawford can be reached at


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