SCHENECTADY — Four hundred Capital Region BOCES students on Tuesday will graduate into a job market ready to take them if they decide to go to work instead of college.
With the region experiencing a long-running shortage of skilled workers and a 3.2 percent April unemployment rate, there’s a lot of jobs from which to choose.
The Center for Economic Growth has been working to increase the ranks of skilled technical/industrial workers in an era when many teenagers (and their parents) are focusing on the academic track.
CEG released an analysis Friday showing that the Capital Region employment rate for those with only a high school education is at its highest level in a generation: 88,787 people in this category are employed in the private sector in the Capital Region, the regional economic development agency said, citing U.S. Census data.
One of the ways these workers enter the workforce is through BOCES programs, where training at the high school level is free or sometimes even paid, and provides credit toward graduation.
On Tuesday evening, 400 students from Capital Region BOCES’ Career and Technical Schools will participate in a graduation and awards ceremony at Proctors.
Senior Executive Officer Joseph Dragone said Capital Region BOCES still works to overcome the idea that high school should directly lead to a four-year college and to promote the idea that there are good careers available right out of high school, or with post-high school technical training.
“I think it’s really about different pathways to a career,” he said. “There’s lots of them. None are right, none are wrong, and it’s not an either-or proposition. … It’s important we help get that message out there.”
Graduates of the BOCES program have a very good chance of being hired right out of high school, Dragone said. Not only is there a shortage of skilled workers, each BOCES program is developed with direct curriculum input from a business advisory council that knows what skills and qualifications are needed in a particular field in this region.
More than 300 businesses and educational institutions partner with BOCES, he added.
The pay rate at the entry-level of many of these jobs is excellent for a young person starting a career out of high school, perhaps less so for an older worker. But there is a clear path to career progression and higher pay in many cases, Dragone said, with some employers providing or subsidizing additional training or even a two-year college degree.
Miriam Dushane, managing partner at Alaant Workforce Solutions, said she’s seen attitudes swing both ways in her 25 years in personnel recruiting:
In the mid-1990s, many employers became adamant that applicants hold four-year degrees. Then, just recently, they’ve begun to drop that requirement — partly because they’re desperate for workers, partly because they realized they were needlessly excluding much of the workforce, she said.
There’s sometimes no qualitative difference between the candidate with college training in a certain technology and the candidate who has learned in the field, she added — in fact, the one who learned on the job likely had some aptitude to start with.
Dushane said her clients have become very open to hiring non-college graduates who have training and experience, particularly for information technology positions such as network technicians, coders and app developers.
“I’m also seeing a big push in cybersecurity.”
Dushane is involved in the effort to boost the area’s tech workforce by means other than college. She is the board chair of Albany Can Code, a nonprofit that helps people who have aptitude but lack training learn to work in the software industry.
She sees a similar shortage in the skilled trades, where the workforce is aging and too few new workers are replacing the veterans.
“We need to start educating parents that it’s not a bad thing to work in the trades,” Dushane said.
Workforce development theory gets put to the test at places where skilled workers use hands and machines to create things — such as Ren Tool & Manufacturing on Chrisler Avenue in Schenectady.
The small family-owned shop creates machine parts, mostly to spec for General Electric but sometimes on demand from a small business that’s using vintage equipment for which there are no spare parts or blueprint.
That’s where hard skills and soft skills combine, said production manager Patrick Belletti: reverse engineering the broken part and engineering a replacement.
“When they break stuff we have to figure out how to fix it,” he said. “It’s really a trade that takes some common knowledge and problem solving.”
Ren has a steady workforce of about eight people and could probably use one or two more, Belletti said. But for years there has been a shortage of machinists in the region, he added.
Ren has been training BOCES intern Chris Zautner three hours a day, three days a week, and both like the arrangement, which brings the high school senior free training, a paycheck and class credit.
“He was actually pretty skilled right off the bat,” Belletti said. “He had a basic understanding of the equipment.”
Belletti said he started Zautner on manual fabrication machinery, rather than computerized, as it’s a way to learn. He’d give the intern some instructions, ran through the procedure, then let him do it.
And Zautner got it.
The job is as much about knowing how to operate the machinery as knowing what to do with it. Belletti said he’s seen people with training who can’t do the problem solving.
“With him I got really lucky,” he said of Zautner.
THE ECONOMIC DEVELOPER
CEG is involved in a variety of initiatives to boost skilled trades.
“From manufacturers to hospitals, there is an overwhelming need for talent with the right technical skills, and programs such as those offered by Capital Region BOCES are making sure our high schools students have what employers want by the time the graduate,” CEG President and CEO Andrew Kennedy said in a news release. “Our region’s economy would not be on the growth trajectory it is on had it not been for so many highly skilled workers emerging from our high schools.”
In 2017, CEG said, the top private sectors for workers with a high school diploma in the Capital Region were:
- Health care and social assistance, 15,913
- Retail trade, 12,914
- Educational services, 10,625
- Manufacturing 9,526
- Accommodation and food services 7,793
- Construction 6,298
Meanwhile, CEG is working with several partners in the Capital Region to prepare high school graduates for entry-level jobs or prepare them to advance above entry-level jobs. These include:
- Capital Region BOCES — three manufacturing programs at the Center for Advanced Technology at Mohonasen and three health sciences programs at assorted locations.
- Manufacturing Technology Pathways Project — Hudson Valley Community College’s new short-term, stackable credential training program.
- Certified Production Technician Program — A new eight- to 12-week certificate course at SUNY Schenectady County Community College.
- Manufacturing Intermediary Apprenticeship Program — A CEG program, in partnership with the Manufacturers Association of Central New York, to assist local manufacturers in training incumbent workers for high-skill trades.
- Business Growth Solutions — A National Institute of Standards and Technology Manufacturing Extension Partnership center that can help manufacturers obtain grants for employee training initiatives.