Pennsylvania Secretary of Labor & Industry (L&I), Katherine Manderino toured Wallenpaupack's career and technical education (CTE) program, Tuesday.

WALLENPAUPACK - Pennsylvania Secretary of Labor & Industry (L&I), Katherine Manderino toured Wallenpaupack’s career and technical education (CTE) program, Tuesday. This was followed by a “round table” discussion with local business leaders and school officials at the High School Library.

Along with the input given her by several movers and shakers of the business community and school district administration, however, the Secretary had the chance to hear from several students, who are in the CTE program. Well groomed, juniors and seniors in Wallenpaupack’s Student Ambassador program accompanied her on a walking tour of several key classrooms. It was mostly students in the building trade lab, the automotive technology lab, allied health, culinary department and the computer technology lab, that described the resources, illustrated achievements and shared hope for the success for both themselves and their fellow students.
It is part of the role of the Department of L&I to prepare job seekers for the global workforce through employment and job training. Raising up a capable workforce to meet present and future needs of Pennsylvania’s economy includes assuring the vitality of secondary education adapted to changing times.

CTE today

It used to be called “shop” or “home-ec.”

Tuesday’s visit dovetailed with a presentation only the night before at the Wallenpaupack School Board meeting. Assistant Superintendent. Dr. Joann Hudak, discussed the status of their CTE program. “It’s not your parent’s workshop or home economic class,” her presentation was subtitled.

Dr. Hudak noted that the public and staff still often refer to these type of classes as “vocational education.” She sought to dispel myths about career and technical education, including in part that CTE is not as strenuous as college prep courses or that college is not emphasized.

CTE, rather, links students it the “real world,” she said, using instructional strategies like worked-based learning opportunities in ways that many other high school programs cannot. She noted that the “hottest jobs” nationwide are not this requiring a four year college degree, but blue collar jobs reinforced with a two year degree. All CTE programs must have a work-based learning component and strong academics.

She said they want their CTE students to be more engaged, to gain great “employability” skills and to graduate with industry-recognized credentials. The programs like high school technical education with post-secondary education.

CTE programs currently offered at Wallenpaupack include Allied Health, Automotive

Technology, Building Trades, Child Care, Culinary Arts and Engineering Technologies. Starting with the 2017-2018 school year will be Sports Medicine and Rehabilitative Therapy (SMaRT).
Articulation agreement are being set up with colleges. Lackawanna College has a Physical Therapy Assistant Program at the Hawley Silk Mill site, which Hudak said is a good fit.

SMaRT will incorporate sports medicine, diet & nutrition, exercise physiology, physical therapy, fitness & personal training, athletic training and occupational therapy.
Each of the CTE occupational programs have an advisory committee, which provides advice on curriculum and keeping equipment up to date. Community business leaders and parents are welcome to serve on these committees.

Secretary’s visit

Students were working on cars on lifts in the Automotive Technology lab, when Secretary Manderino arrived, along with Wayne and Pike County commissioners and local workforce development agency officials.  Students Matt Forsythe and Logan Carney explained what the lad- overseen by Dr. Mark Watson- offers, and the amazing results they have seen in the last few years, competing at state and even national levels.

Secretary Manderino commented that the Governor has been an ambassador for jobs and job training, emphasizing the need for technical skills offered through CTE.

“I think there has been a misconception from many people that you can’t get a good paying job with real career potential unless you go and get a four year degree program, and yet employers are dying for the technical skills… You need to be just as smart to do this, it’s just a more hands-on [approach].”

At the “roundtable” held at the library, business leaders shared some of their successes and concerns, in regards to finding a suitable and prepared workforce.

Lucyann Vierling, Executive Director, of Wayne Pike Workforce Alliance, commented that “there is a job for everyone.” In her 30 years involved in workforce development in the northeast, she said she has found that Wayne and Pike counties is the “closest you will get to a unified, directionalized approach to developing a talented workforce.”

She credited Dr. Hudak for initiating a career pathways in the school district approach 10 years ago. Wallenpaupack started the position of career coordinator, and is starting an academy curriculum model focusing on goal-setting and career preparation.

Secretary Manderino commented that those around the table have the answers; her visit provided an opportunity for them to get together and talk about one another’s needs.

Employers’ concerns

Gary Linde, who is president of Leeward Construction and operates Middle Creek Quarry, said their problem is in the regulations. He asked if there was some way to amend the child labor laws to allow young people, starting at age 16, to work and receive on the job training. The regulations require his employees to be no younger than 18.

“I just think we would attract so many more of them,” he said. “We have jobs, anything from what is going on in the computer lab to automotive.” He said he would like to be able to have an apprentice program.

The Secretary noted that some of the regulations are federal and not under the state’s control, but she would take the suggestion back with her to Harrisburg.

James Shook, owner of the Lake Region IGA, added, “I know exactly where Gary is coming from.” An added concern that he shared, is a lack of workers in the age range of approximately 30 to 45. He has issues with some of their young people that have worked for the IGA in the past, in being able to communicate with the older workers who need to supervise them.
Those young people, he added, typically don’t know how to put away the cell phone or read and write cursive letters. Older managers may write notes in cursive handwriting, and the young workers can’t read them, he said. “They probably can’t read the Declaration of Independence either,” he added.

Manderino said that it was true, that so much time is spent teaching hard skills, that soft skills may be overlooked. Business etiquette is also needed for young people to be successful, she said.

Joseph Sebelin, director of Pocono Counties WIA, noted that soft skill are vital in the Hospitality industry, which is so big in the Poconos.

Wallenpaupack Principal Jim Kane commented that they have created the Student Ambassador program, which teaches exactly that- soft skills such as how to shake your hand and have a polite conversation. They have 60 students in the program their FBLA program is also exceptional, with about 100 students who are being groomed professionally.

The Secretary said she observed that in her visit at the school, but noted it was not always the case. Shook added the soft skills need to be developed in all the students, including those who “stay behind” and aren’t sure what they want to do in the future.

Dr. Clayton LaCoe, Wallenpaupack’s District STEM Supervisor, stated that this was their goal, for all their students. the Academy curriculum model is designed to help with that, but help from the community is needed.

“We need to be sure that the employers are letting the educators know what they need, and the educators know what the employers need,” Secretary Manderino said.

Irene Marks, from Lake Region IGA, said they have also had concern with young people who couldn’t count change or tell military time.

Also present from the local business community was Melissa Latch, HR manager at Woodloch Pines and The Lodge at Woodloch, Marcy Swingle, HR Director at HNB Bank and Al Luberto, owner of AJ’s Automotive in Greentown.

State Rep. Mike Peifer (R-139) commented that Pennsylvania needs to keep transportation jobs in the state at prevailing wage, but training is needed to work on an excavator or roller. Mentors are needed.

Joseph Adams, Wayne County Commissioner, used Leeward Construction’s needs as an example. They may be bidding on a $10 million highway project. Their bid needs to be right, and it involves knowledge of balance sheets, finance, accounting and other skills. Every business needs that skill set, he stressed, which may be overlooked. He referred to as a “disconnect” between employer’s needs and education.

Standardized tests

LaCoe agreed, adding that what drives the disconnect is policy. “Our kids are tested to death,” he said, adding that the CTE students joining them at the roundtable are exceptions in being able to “handle the academic rigors of the testing culture,” and still being able to handle real work on the field.

Standardized tests, he stated, creates a narrow, content-driven way of life in school, in all grades. “It is no wonder we are creating a situation that we can’t send a student to IGA who has any kind of ability to adapt. That disconnect is being created externally. We have to deal with that because it affects so much of what we do in terms of public perception of whether or not schools are good.”

He said he’d love to talk with Gary Linde and learn just what math concepts are required to do their work on the job. That context, he said, is needed to teach. “Until we can give teachers the permission to take a risk and have a conversation with Gary Linde and  develop a unit of instruction… we will not move forward, test after test after test.”

LaCoe added, “If we want our kids to be critical thinkers and problem solvers, we have to teach them how to do that, and taking a multiple choice test and writing five paragraph essays and calling that writing, that isn’t that.”

“We can’t do it all,” he continued. “I think we need to talk about what it really means to come together as a community and educate our kids in what they really need.”

Secretary Manderino said that L&I works closely with the Department of Education. She said a dialogue is happening about what standards are used to judge the success of schools and students. How those standards are set determines the secondary education experience and what comes out of it.

One of the Student Ambassadors, Matt Brennan, interjected that the focus on standardized testing, focused on a certain subject, takes time away from a student’s overall educational goals and passion, and do not necessary prepare him for real life skills.

Others participating at the roundtable included Marybeth Wood, WEDCO and Wallenpaupack board member John Drake.

More photos and a video are planned at Editor