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image september-october bulletin coverPartners in readiness

By Marissa Orbanek is the administrative assistant/public relations manager of General McLane SD (Erie Co.).

Almost 40 years ago, Thomas Yoder graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a degree in psychology.

But his true passion was in automobiles.

“When I was in high school, I worked at a local gas station where I learned how to work on cars from home. I really enjoyed working on cars – that’s what I did,” he said.

When he realized there wasn’t demand in psychology without spending the money on a doctorate, Yoder fell back to his initial interest and opened up his own car shop. He went on to operate it for 20 years before deciding to help prepare today’s generation for success in the automotive industry right out of high school.

“The need is growing, and the need is dire because the workforce is aging and people aren’t entering automotive technology as a field like they used to,” he said.

Now, Yoder serves as an automotive technology instructor at Central Westmoreland Career and Technology Center (CTC) and the program coordinator at Automotive Youth Educational Systems (AYES). AYES creates partnerships between high school automotive technology programs and automotive dealers, as well as aftermarket service employers. By providing students with 320-hour internship opportunities, AYES helps prepare students for entry-level career positions or advanced studies in automotive technology.

Through this process, Yoder said they find interested students and help them thrive right out of shigh school.

“We have a career-driven model. Not every student is going to a four-year college and that’s OK,” Yoder said. “We provide innovative teaching for all students that enhances the acquisition of technical skills, knowledge and soft skills. As a result, our interns and graduates are successful in the diagnosis, maintenance and repair of all vehicles.”

More and more schools are creating community partnerships for career readiness and workforce development initiatives. According to Gene Barr, president and chief executive officer of the PA Chamber of Business and Industry, although college and career readiness has always been important, it’s more so now than ever before.

“Quite clearly, the old way, that you can get by with a high school diploma, is no longer sufficient. That is not to say that everybody needs a four-year degree; they don’t. But for all of the evidence that I’ve seen, people need something more beyond the K-12 education, whether that’s an associate degree or higher, a certificate or experience in the industry itself,” Barr said. “It’s more incumbent now because people can’t get by with just the skills they needed 20-25 years ago.”

On the national level, President Trump recently signed into law the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act, a reauthorization of the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, which allows states to establish certain goals for career and tech education programs without the education secretary’s approval, and requires progress toward those goals.

In Pennsylvania, this past July, Gov. Tom Wolf announced an investment in apprenticeships and other job training opportunities for Pennsylvania workers and the economy through his PAsmart initiative, a $30 million investment in job training.

“It’s a result of a growing awareness to something I’ve heard from my members since I’ve been employed – there are more jobs available than people who qualify,” said Barr, who serves as the voice of 9,000 members ranging from Walmart and Comcast to local dry cleaners.

The PA Chamber’s 2016 Workforce Development Survey found that employees are struggling to find qualified employees and 57% think it will only get more difficult within the next five years. Only 21% ranked the readiness of the current labor force to meet the needs of the state’s employers as excellent or good; the problem costs companies $189 million each year training new employees and in lost productivity.

“Let’s work together and find a solution. There’s an opportunity now when times are good to work together to fix the problem – school districts, businesses, parents, counselors, we can all do a better job,” Barr said.

Creating conversations through school-business partnerships stands as one way to work together – and some of these conversations are already taking place.

Partnerships statewide

Outside of the Central Westmoreland CTC’s workforce initiative, there are other schools and businesses throughout the state working together.

There have been multiple reports that manufacturing – one of the largest industries in Pennsylvania, employing 559,286 people – often faces the biggest challenge with finding the right skilled workers.

The Hanover Area Chamber of Commerce (Luzerne Co.) responded to the need by becoming the first chamber in Pennsylvania to submit a chamber apprenticeship program model approved by the PA Department of Labor and Industry. Through the apprenticeship program, high school students have the opportunity to engage in a pre-apprenticeship during their senior year. Upon graduation, students can complete a second year as a paid employee and apprentice within the company.

General McLane SD (Erie Co.) also is providing students shadowing opportunities provided by local manufacturing companies through their high school’s Manufacturing Academy.

“We know that local manufacturers are facing many openings as baby boomers retire,” said General McLane Superintendent Richard Scaletta. “At General McLane, we are eager to work in close partnership with local companies to provide a stream of candidates to replace these retirees. With the right system in place, we can serve as a ‘farm team’ for our manufacturing partners.”

Students started shadowing experiences this year with Plastikos, Inc., a world-class custom injection molding company that specializes in small precision parts, with business in the medical industry. Through this career readiness model, General McLane will produce students well-prepared for the Erie workforce.

“Speaking not only for us, but for other manufacturers all around the United States, everyone has the same concern on the skills gap within their organizations if concerted efforts are not made to address this,” said Plastikos Co-Owner and Manufacturing Manager Rob Cooney. “College is not for everyone and much of what we do is to grow our own talent for our technical careers, so getting the right people to bring in at the entry-level is extremely critical for Plastikos to continue its success within the plastics industry. We are investing in high school students to see if this is something they can envision for themselves.”

General McLane’s Manufacturing Academy is similar to the high school’s Academy of Medical Arts and Engineering, which launched during the 2011-12 school year to enhance STEM education. Since its launch, more than 100 students have enrolled, and more than 70 students have successfully completed the four-year requirements, which include a shadowing experience. Through their academies, the high school has partnered with more than 15 different businesses within the area, including some of the Erie region’s top employers.

“We are committed to creating innovative partnerships to meet the ever-changing workforce demands and prepare our students as best as we can for success,” Scaletta said. “When a senior had the opportunity to scrub in and observe three reconstructive surgeries in one day as part of her shadowing experience, she is better prepared for jobs of the future.”

South Side Area SD (Beaver Co.) has also launched an innovative community partnership through its Sophomore Interview Project, which began in 1993. Students are paired up with a company and create a cover letter and resume for each company they are paired with. During Sophomore Interview Day, they meet with a company representative for an interview and come prepared with a portfolio. After the interview, the interviewer has a chance to put together a summary or critique that gives students feedback.

“I think South Side was ahead of their time in wanting to provide career readiness for their students,” said South Side High School Principal Anthony Paull. “This is something that has become critical for today’s workforce.”

Almost 30 different community partners annually meet with students for interviews. Students have the opportunity to identify areas of career interest and also areas of strength and weakness in their oral communication skills.

‘Overwhelming support’

Many of these career readiness programs have already seen great success.

Central Westmoreland CTC has placed 127 students since the 2003-04 school year. Among the placements, the Smail Auto Group has been the lead in embracing the AYES school-to-work initiative, placing 24% of its interns and more than 50% of its interns in the past two years.

In fact, Central Westmoreland CTC and the Smail Auto Group of Greensburg were selected as the winner of the 2017 Pennsylvania Education Workforce Leadership Award. Outside of Smail, however, Central Westmoreland CTC is also a collaborative partner of the Greater Pittsburgh Automobile Dealers Careers Initiative, the Automotive Service Excellence Industry Education Alliance and the Pennsylvania Automotive Association.

From having students return to serve as mentors to students becoming the top technicians in their shop, to working all around the Pittsburgh area on high-end vehicles, to supporting their families through their 11th-grade internship, Yoder said he has seen the success for students both financially and in terms of prestige. But it also provides a win-win outcome for all involved.

“It allows the dealership to ‘grow their own technician,’ training the intern in the ways of the business and the specific manufacturer,” Yoder said. “It creates a loyal, long-term employee that has a positive career path that includes continuing education, pay increases, great working conditions. The student, the parents, the community, the school and the automotive industry all benefit.”

According to Paull, South Side SD’s results have been anecdotal reports from students and interviewers.

“There is an overwhelming support of the program and companies are eager to come back because they recognize the opportunity and value they provide for the students,” Paull said. “Students who come back to visit tell us that their experience helped them feel more comfortable in an interview setting.”

Although Barr said he knows there is already a lot of demand on schools, he wants to continue working on outreach initiatives that make workforce development a priority.

“I know there are only so many hours in a school day, and on top of that, we are dealing with overall testing, but when a kid graduates from school, we need to make sure they are well-equipped to go to an employer and provide a standard skill set,” Barr said. “What I think is immediately doable is opening up these channels of communication between businesses and schools and having people talk as a community; that’s something we can do right now.” B

Future Ready PA Index:
College and Career Ready Indicators

One signal that college and career readiness is at the forefront is the shape of the new Future Ready PA Index. Part of implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act, the Index is the new tool to assess schools’ performance. Instead of a single School Performance Profile (SPP) score, the Index contains a dashboard showing a series of Indicators of performance. Indicators are organized into three categories: Statewide Assessment Measures, On-Track Measures, and College and Career Ready Measures. Of the six Indicators that fall under College and Career Ready Measures, four are new: Career Readiness Standards, Industry-Based Learning, Advanced on Industry-Based Competency Assessment, and Postsecondary Transition to School, Military or Work.

School districts have been collecting data on these indicators since the 2017-18 school year, in preparation for the implementation of the Future Ready PA Index dashboard this fall. For more information on the Index and reporting requirements, visit