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Pittsburgh Post Gazette

June 16th, 2019

Allegheny County students remain under-enrolled in career and technical education programs even though they can lead to rewarding, family-sustaining jobs that employers will be struggling to fill.

That’s the main takeaway of a new report from the Pittsburgh nonprofit Allies for Children.

The report should be viewed as a companion or follow-up to a pair of Allegheny Conference on Community Development studies, one issued in 2016 and the other last year, warning that the region will be short as many as 80,000 workers by 2025. Many of those openings will be in positions that don’t require four-year college degrees but do require the kind of specialized training provided by high school and postgraduate CTE.

Allies for Children and the Allegheny Conference both noted low student enrollment, funding challenges and other problems with CTE programs. Three years after the conference’s initial report, it’s clear the CTE landscape isn’t changing quickly enough, with potentially grave repercussions for workers and the region.

Only 8% of Allegheny County high school students are enrolled in CTE programs, compared to about 13% statewide, according to Allies for Children. Parity would require another 2,400 students to enroll in the county’s CTE programs.

The report noted that Forbes Road Career and Technology Center in Monroeville has fewer students now than 10 years ago. The region has lost population, so that is likely a contributing factor. However, with training in advanced manufacturing, automotive technology, building construction technology, warehouse management and computer network security, among other programs directly bearing on the region’s growing economy, the school should be bursting at the seams.

Allies for Children calls for more outreach so that students, parents and K-12 teachers better appreciate the potential value of CTE.

Utterly laughable is the lingering notion that CTE is for students who can’t make it in other educational settings. Forbes Road says students in its advanced manufacturing program “will read blueprints” and “cut, shape and finish metal products on state‐of‐the‐art manual and computer-controlled machines.” None of that sounds easy.

Exposure to CTE should start as early as possible — no later than middle school — and promotion of these programs should include employment projections so students can make sound plans for their future. State and local governments should make the necessary investment in CTE programs — especially equipment — so students can hit the ground running after graduation.

Also, as Allies for Children and the Allegheny Conference have noted, schools and employers should work together to develop a workforce for CTE-related jobs that are open now or at risk of going unfilled in the future.