By Amanda Litvinov
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Veteran educator Dave Namey has taught electrical courses at the Wilkes-Barre Area Career and Technical Center in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, for more than 40 years.
He started during the career and technical education (CTE) heyday of the late 1970s and early 80s and witnessed its slump in the 1990s. But several factors have brought renewed attention to CTE in the past few years, including industry demand for skilled workers and the soaring costs of attaining a four-year degree.
More than 65,000 high school students are enrolled in CTE programs in Pennsylvania. The number of students earning industry-recognized credentials has increased by 32 percent in the past three years.
But that momentum has not been reflected in funding—both state and federal funding for career and technical education programs have been frozen since 2009.
“If it wasn’t for generous donations from area businesses and Local 163 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers to get us through the lean years, we’d be in quite a pickle,” said Namey.
Now, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf is doubling down on his efforts to bolster career and technical education and align those programs with workforce needs. This month, he unveiled his plan to invest $60 million in CTE through the departments of Education and Labor and Industry as part of his 2018-19 budget proposal.
More than 38 districts and technology centers have already received grants totaling $1.2 million, including the center where Namey teaches.
One of the most pressing needs for CTE programs is to purchase up-to-date equipment and tools to prepare students to work in a given industry.
In the electrical field, for example, there is demand for skills in photovoltaic technology, Namey explained. “There’s a growing emphasis on alternative energy, but before now, there was no way we could provide the solar panels, panel boxes, and inverters students need to learn the skills they would need,” he said.
Another common need for career and technical education programs are modern power tools, which are battery operated and extremely efficient, Namey said.
In addition to teaching, Namey has served since the late 1980s with the Pennsylvania State Education Association’s Department of Career and Technical Studies. He has been the elected president since 2000.
In that role, he meets with other CTE educators from around the state. They have successfully lobbied state legislators to establish an appropriate timeframe for CTE teachers to attain certifications, and to allow students to use their high scores on the Pennsylvania CTE skills assessment as a graduation alternative to high stakes standardized testing.
Part of that group’s work is to help parents and students better understand what CTE programs offer, and who they are for.
“When our students graduate, we want them to have three distinct career paths. They can start working right away. They can go for some post-secondary education to increase their knowledge and earning potential. Or they could pursue a union apprenticeship,” Namey said.
No matter what they decide, Namey says students leave his school’s three-year program with “a set of problem-solving skills and a work ethic that will benefit them throughout their lives.”
One recent graduate from his electrical program—a “nontraditional” female student who also happened to be head cheerleader—did stay in the industry. She works at a local power plant and “is doing quite well for herself,” Namey reports.
“It’s been great seeing more interest and understanding of the value of career and technical education over the past five years,” Namey said.
“It’s important that people understand the value of what we do here and the caliber of students we put into the workforce.”