Career and technical education needs more support

ERIC BLOW | Special to LNP | LancasterOnline

Feb 29, 2020

Eric Blow is President and CEO of Astro Machine Works in Ephrata.

February is Career and Technical Education month in Pennsylvania and, as a graduate of the Lancaster County Career & Technology Center, I am proud to honor the achievements and accomplishments of career and technical education students and the administrators devoted to delivering this critical component of Pennsylvania’s public education system.

The career and tech center has provided education for nearly 50 years. It is committed to delivering a quality career and technical education for the betterment of Lancaster County’s economic development and all of Pennsylvania.

After graduating from the Willow Street campus in 1979, I obtained immediate employment, fulfilled my four-year apprenticeship and proceeded to start Astro Machine Works in 1984 with three other partners. In 2006, I had the honor and privilege to be named president and CEO.

My life has been greatly enhanced by the excellent education I received at the career and tech center, and at Astro we currently employ more than 110 employees, many of whom are career and tech center graduates like myself.

Every student who wants to attend a career and technical education center — whether in Lancaster County or elsewhere in the state — should be able to do so. However, this education is not available to all students who want to attend because many school districts simply cannot afford to enroll all interested students in those programs.

The career and technical education subsidy that’s part of the state budget each year represents less than 8% of the total cost to fund career and technical education, and federal Carl Perkins grant funding covers roughly 2% of a career and technical education center’s budget.

That leaves member school districts paying about 90% of the overall budget to send students to career and tech centers.

Our industry finds it extremely difficult to hire an adequate number of skilled employees, an issue that is prevalent throughout the state and entire country. Contrary to public perception, manufacturing jobs are not going overseas — they are remaining here. Add to this the problem of attrition as the baby boomer generation winds down to retirement, and the problem is exacerbated even more. The bottom line is that we need partnerships with programs like Lancaster’s career and tech center that are committed to helping us meet our workforce training needs both for new employees and incumbent workers.

Policymakers understand the value of career and technical education because they have invested in providing support to it over the last two state budget cycles.

Unfortunately, Gov. Tom Wolf’s 2020-21 budget proposal does not include increased investments. I hope members of the General Assembly will ensure that state funding for career and technical education is again increased, so that every student who chooses to can pursue the coursework and learning opportunities that allow them to progress toward an industry-based credential in their chosen career.

Workforce development truly is key to the economic development of Lancaster and Pennsylvania. Prioritizing funding for career and technical education in the final 2020-21 state budget will ensure that all students who wish to be career-ready after graduation are prepared and that no student lacks appropriate access to these programs.

Eric Blow is president and CEO of Astro Machine Works Inc. in Ephrata.

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