How many times have you heard a friend say they can’t find a plumber or there’s a six-month wait for a construction worker? Perhaps you’ve heard someone say that fields like cybersecurity and biomedical research lend themselves to long and successful careers, but they don’t know how to pursue those jobs. Career and technical education addresses all of these issues, and so much more.
Maine’s 27 career and technical education centers serve over 8,000 high school students and many more in adult education programs. These programs train Mainers to enter high-growth industries. They are constantly responding and reacting to the needs of our local economy and closing the skills gap. They also provide an important educational opportunity for the many students who find their strengths lie outside the traditional classroom.
Career and technical education is essential to our communities, but we’re not giving it the investment it needs. Career and technical education programs are at their best when they have modern equipment and resources to train students on the most updated aspects of their fields. Yet there hasn’t been a significant investment in career and technical education since 1998.
In some places, private funding helps fill the void where state funding falls short. Kevin Stilphen, principal at Portland Arts and Technology High School, or PATHS, says that a grant from EnviroLogix has brought their health occupation courses to a new level. The generous gift from EnviroLogix allowed PATHS to build a new biomedical science lab and obtain computers with virtual-reality capabilities. These state-of-the-art tools prepare students in the program to become credentialed and enter the industry immediately. Every program in every career and technical education center in Maine wants to provide these kinds of tangible opportunities to their students. But when they don’t have the equipment currently used by the industry, they’re at a loss.
For each career and technical education center that receives upgrades, many communities benefit. PATHS is a great example, with 14 different cities and towns sending students to their programs. This means that an investment in PATHS gives 14 communities worth of Mainers better access, exposure and training to critical fields. The result is a stronger workforce in every one of those municipalities.
But private funding and grants are not reliable or recurring. The state needs to step up to the plate and invest in career and technical education across the board.
In the Legislature, there are several options on the table to increase funding for career and technical education, two sponsored by one of the co-authors of this op-ed, Assistant House Majority Leader Ryan Fecteau. L.D. 859 and L.D. 1947 put forth two different bond proposals that would allow for capital improvements and equipment upgrades at career and technical education centers across the state. Sen. Erin Herbig, D-Belfast, has sponsored another bill, which would increase career and technical education investment through a general fund appropriation. No matter what the approach, we need to get more funds to our career and technical education programs.
Throughout Maine, we need a trained workforce. It is so important that we pair workforce needs with skilled employees. One way to do that is by preparing students for the jobs that will always need to be done and that will never be automated – welding, plumbing, carpentry, the list goes on. These are a few of the many fields for which career and technical education provides training, and that support our local communities and economies.
Investing in career and technical education is just smart. We have these incredible programs at our disposal that are doing everything in their power to provide our children with a high-quality educational experience that they deserve. Simply stated, career and technical education gives Maine students the academic and technical skills they need for postsecondary and workplace success. These programs are preparing students to fill jobs that provide essential services to our community members. And these programs are supporting industries and municipalities across Maine that make our entire state stronger.
It’s about time we increased our investment in these programs. The cascading benefits for our students, economy and future are well worth the cost.
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