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French, Harrington: Training and CTE are vital to future of Vermont’s workforce

August 30, 2022

During his State of the State Address earlier this year, Governor Phil Scott said that it’s just as valuable and impressive to become an electrician, welder or EMT as it is to get an Ivy League education. It was an important statement to make then and remains so now.

Simply, Vermont needs more workers in the trades, and opportunities in these careers are plentiful. But you may be asking how or where do these opportunities come from? Education and training opportunities are available for any and all, and we want Vermonters to know the value of learning a trade.

Careers you can build on

In 2021, 241,000 new apprentices entered a nationally recognized trades training program, bringing the total number of apprentices across the country to nearly 600,000. Here in Vermont, there were roughly 2,000 active apprentices in 2021, and the data shows that roughly 80% of those graduates will still be employed 4-years from now. Statistically, over those 4 years, their wages are expected to increase at twice the state average.

As the governor has said, over and over, there’s value in these important jobs.

Just ask anyone who’s tried to find an electrician lately, or a plumber, or staff to run heavy equipment, drive truck, or install that new solar panel out behind the garage.

Across the state, there’s a need for skilled craftsmen and women, great jobs in the trades that promise a successful future with great local companies ready to hire, TODAY.

The average wage for plumbers and electricians in Vermont is roughly $25 an hour, but the top 10% of plumbers and electricians make over $30 per hour. For tramway and lift mechanics, the average wage is over $22 per hour, and the top 10% can make close to $29 per hour.

This means that during normal times, each of you can earn between $55,000 and $62,000 a year for a 40-hour week. But these are not normal times.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that between 2020 and 2030 occupational employment for plumbers and pipefitters is expected to grow by 5%, with a demand for over 51,000 plumbers and pipefitters each year during that time. During the same time, electrical jobs are expected to grow by 9.1%

Let’s put that a little more clearly. We need folks to pursue these opportunities, they are needed, valued, and will be an important part of Vermont and our communities for decades to come. The Vermont Department of Labor is working to create more opportunities, like this, for Vermonters to gain high quality skills to build high quality careers.

This past session the governor secured an additional $1 million this fiscal year for VDOL to continue expanding registered apprenticeship programs and registered apprentice enrollment.

With last year’s $1 million we were able to partner with Vermont Tech to develop new aviation mechanic and broadband installation apprenticeship programs.

We were also able to support pre-apprenticeship training in electrical apprenticeship programs for students still enrolled in a secondary Career Technical Education (CTE) program.

This year, we will be adding at least four new apprenticeship programs – in carpentry, education, cybersecurity, and manufacturing – and finding ways to break down financial barriers to enrollment in registered programs.

Additionally, employer-sponsors or registered apprentices are eligible for $300 in tool and equipment reimbursements through a program to be launched in early fall.

This is just a small piece of what’s going on in this exciting and growing part of our economy. And, as we continue to work against a serious workforce shortage, it will be important to continue to support apprenticeships, CTE and other training programs that support Vermonters as they work towards great careers, right here in Vermont.

CTE and educating the next generation

CTE programs provide relevant and exciting learning opportunities for all students. And it’s not just about the skills that are valuable and needed today; it’s about ensuring Vermont will be competitive in our evolving, 21st century global economy, and continue to provide meaningful, good jobs in our communities.

As it always has, CTE continues to grow and evolve, and provide valuable training and a high-quality education to its students.

CTE participation and program outcomes have remained strong despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. Here are some numbers from the 2020-21 School Year:

  • 32% of Vermont Juniors and Seniors participated in CTE.
  • 93% of Vermont’s 2021 CTE graduates were either employed, in the military, or enrolled in college or post-secondary training by October of that year.
  • 25% of our CTE graduates earned a post-secondary credential in their CTE program.
  • And 36% of CTE graduates earned college credits while still in high school.

We don’t have numbers for last year yet, but we expect those to be even better, because CTE programs are offering credentials that weren’t offered the year before due to the pandemic, and also because we have been working with CTE centers to increase the number of approved post-secondary credentials available to students in CTE programs.

We recently joined the governor in touring Green Mountain Technology and Career Center in Hyde Park. In the 2020-21 school year, Green Mountain had a 4-year graduation rate of 98%. 55% of the Center’s 2021 graduates earned college credits. 100% of the allied health program students earned certification as Licensed Nursing Assistants, and 66% of those students went on to college, while 34% went directly into the healthcare sector.

The programs at Green Mountain are very strong. Students in the Allied Health, Creative Media Art and Design, Business Administration, and Forestry and National Resources programs earn dual enrollment credits through either the Community College of Vermont or Vermont Technical College.

Students in the Construction Trades and HVAC programs all earn nationally recognized post-secondary credentials that prepare them to work on real world projects both at the Center and after graduation as they enter the workforce.

Students in the electrical technology program complete the first year of a registered electrical apprenticeship while attending the Center, and students in the Computer Networking Technology program can earn a range of computer science and cybersecurity credentials, as well as a Microsoft Certified Expert status.

So, what’s next for CTE in Vermont? Basically, we will be working on three things:

  1. Investing in the development of new innovative programs to meet the future needs of our students and our communities
  2. Continue to work to on reducing the barriers that can make it difficult to participate in these programs, and
  3. Do a better job of promoting the value of CTE across the state.

In terms of making new investments, Governor Scott has dedicated a significant portion of the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) COVID funds, to support new innovative CTE programs.

About $500,000 will be used to establish or expand programs involving electric transportation. These funds can be used for electric aviation and/or electric vehicle programs.

$15 million from the Ed Fund surplus will be used to create a new innovative grant program called the Construction and Rehabilitation Experiential Learning program. Under this program, CTE centers can apply for funds to expand their construction programs to include renovating properties in their communities.

This appropriation establishes a revolving loan fund administered by the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board. CTE centers, in collaboration with community partners, private business, nonprofit organizations, or municipalities can make proposals for renovating properties in their communities.

This program will help meet an immediate and critical need to provide more housing across Vermont by renovating existing housing stock while also providing students a unique experience to work on all aspects of housing construction and give back to their communities.

Our second area of focus will be to continue to work on eliminating the barriers to accessing CTE programs. One such barrier might be the CTE funding system which makes it difficult for CTE dollars to follow the student.

We partnered with the legislature this year to enact legislation to reform our CTE funding system so it can be more responsive to student needs. The Joint Fiscal Office will be contracting out the modelling of changes to the CTE funding system this winter, and we hope to bring forward some recommendations on how to improve the system during the upcoming legislative session.

Lastly, we must do more to promote the value of CTE programs for all students. Too often, CTE is viewed as being relevant for only some students, or we force students to choose CTE over other academic programs.

CTE has value for all students and should not be an “either or” proposition for any student.

About 32% of our students participate in CTE programs but we think more students would benefit and enjoy participating in these programs. Part of the challenge is just getting the word out, but it is also about educating people about how the quality and relevance of these programs and how they can be useful to all students not just some. Our goal is to make sure that prospective students, families, and the community at large understand the value of CTE to both students and Vermont. We can and will do more to promote these programs in all regions of the state.

A version of the commentary above was originally given as remarks by Commissioner Michael Harrington and Secretary Dan French during Governor Phil Scott’s weekly press conference at Green Mountain Technology and Career Center in Hyde Park on Tuesday, August 23, 2022.