Ohio’s economy is slowly improving but employers are still having difficulty filling jobs. Workers applying for these jobs lack the skills to do them, which is having a negative effect on companies’ bottom lines, preventing growth and hurting productivity. According to a manufacturing industry report, sponsored by Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute, over the next 10 years nearly 3.5 million manufacturing jobs in the United States will likely be open. But 2 million are expected to remain unfulfilled. In Northeast Ohio alone, 50,000 manufacturing jobs will be available.
“Closing the skills gap is everybody’s job. There are many paths to prosperity and having a skill should be valued more in today’s world,” says Christine Gardner, who has been the executive director for Ohio Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE) for nearly 10 years.
In Ohio, manufacturing isn’t the only industry that’s growing. By 2018, health sciences is expected to grow by 10 percent, compared to the nation’s 8 percent, according to a Georgetown University Center on Education and Workforce study.
Lacking awareness of what’s available to students, as well as perception that “vocational” students don’t go to college is a challenge CTE schools are facing. But statistics show that 50 percent of career-tech students go on to college.
“There are so many jobs that require a skill or technical knowledge that students don’t know about,” says Gardner. “Parents need to be open to the many opportunities that exist now. Career-tech students are academically prepared to further their education, but they also have a head start or a skill to help them excel in higher education.”
Funding for CTE, though, is just another obstacle.
“Too often there has been a frantic effort at the last minute to bring in the career center funding in these funding reform projects,” says Rep. Ron Amstutz, Ohio’s speaker pro tempore, who received CTE’s Public Servant of the Year Award in 2013 in part for his support of CTE. For example: CTE funding was left out of recent changes in transitional funding for schools, but “we have been crafting a potential improvement for their benefit,” says Amstutz.
“On the other hand, a series of career centers have just been funded for million-dollar equipment upgrades in a RAMTEC (Robotics and Advanced Manufacturing Technology Education Collaborative) initiative through the Straight-A grant program,” he adds.
Roughly 121,000 of Ohio’s 610,000 students in grades 9-12 are on a career-tech path. CTE schools are partnering with employers to give students hands-on training. Tri-Heights Career Prep Consortium, a partnership among three area high schools in Northeast Ohio, created a engineering tech program. By partnering with local businesses like Eaton Corporation and Lincoln Electric, the consortium focuses on jobs and opportunities available after graduation.
“For many students, interweaving their studies with the real world of wide spectrum career possibilities is the difference between seemingly meaningless studies and vibrant, exciting and practical learning,” says Amstutz.