Connecticut technical high school system puts skills on display in Hartford

April 6, 2016

Home>Connecticut technical high school system puts skills on display in Hartford

As college degrees are advertised to high school students as a prerequisite for entering Connecticut’s changing, knowledge-based workforce, proponents of technical education worry jobs requiring labor-intensive skills and knowledge are being neglected.

At the state Capitol Wednesday, representatives of the Connecticut Technical Education and Career System presented a case that technical education in the state is stronger than ever.

“It’s a very unique role we play in the state,” said technical school system Superintendent Nivea Torres at an event meant to showcase the system’s work in the state, drawing from several disciplines from within its schools. “There’s an increased need for more talented and credentialed folk in the area of manufacturing and in the construction industries. There is a commitment from the governor and the state for transportation, and there’s also growth in the field of allied health.”

Torres said in the last five years she believes CTHSS has “transformed” itself.

“There’s a sense of energy now,” she said.

A.I. Prince Technical High School freshman Sugeiry Payan, who studies in the automated manufacturing department, said one day she aspires to start her own manufacturing company.

Department head Jim Clarke said the Hartford school is the only one to combine computer-aided design and computer-aided manufacturing with engineering, which gives students the ability to program machines to carry out manufacturing tasks.

Senior Breanna Diaz, who will be valedictorian at A.I. Prince Tech, will attend Worcester Polytechnic Institute in fall to major in clinical engineering and mathematics. She, too, wants eventually to start her own manufacturing company.

Torres said a major goal of the technical school system is to encourage women toward careers in fields such as manufacturing, especially because of the dearth of women in the national science, technology, engineering and math fields.

“It doesn’t really make me nervous, because I know I’m good at what I do,” Diaz said.

Payan said that, if anything, she’s motivated by a lack of women in manufacturing to enter the field and break the mold. “I’m a female and I’m successful at it,” she said.

CTHSS Governing Board Chairman Bob Trefry said he believes the program is “a tremendous economic driver.”

“We want people with skills, and this system is about young people with skills that can get jobs,” he said.

Having a talented workforce, Torres said, is directly connected to a economic development.

Seniors Kellie Fries and Michelle Whitney in the Culinary Arts program at the Meriden-based Wilcox Technical High School stood behind an entire table of pastries.

“My mom and I had a tradition of baking,” Whitney said, and now she can pursue it full time. After graduation, Whitney will attend the Culinary Institute of America.

Fries, who has a similar background, growing up baking with her grandparents, will attend Johnson and Wales for its culinary arts program in the fall.

“This program definitely shows me new skills,” she said.

Department head Tom Flaherty said there’s a need for skilled chefs, because Connecticut has a large restaurant industry.

“They are looking for highly qualified people,” he said.

Robert Klancko, co-chairman of the New Haven Manufacturers Association’s Workforce Development Committee, said he has seen students emerge from CTHSS programs and excel in the professional world, although he laments budget cuts to technical education programs.

“When the budget cuts come out, they’re looking at the agriscience and technical high schools. They’re always getting cut,” he said. “In business and industry we have thousands of jobs open, because we cannot find the right, skilled candidates for the jobs.”

Klancko also said he disagrees with how the state funds technical education at a college level.

“We’re in a real, real dilemma here, and we have a lot of challenges before us in the state of Connecticut; we need to have more money for agriscience and technology,” he said.

Klancko said he’s met recent graduates who excelled academically, but are unable to apply skills to critical thinking in real job situations. He said schools such as Southern Connecticut State University, Central Connecticut State University, University of Hartford and Quinnipiac University have reached out to the association to figure out how to better prepare graduates.

Klancko said students currently graduating from Connecticut’s schools might be proficient in calculus, but don’t have skills in statistics, which are more valuable in his view in industry.

“We really feel there’s a disconnect, especially between the schools of engineering and business industry in Connecticut as to what skill sets business industry is looking for,” he said.

State Education Commissioner Dianna Wentzell said she and the board support CTHSS’s programs.

“It’s very unique, and most other states do not have this program,” she said. “There’s lots of attention being paid to technical education on a national level, and we have such an advantage in Connecticut.”

Read this article on the New Haven Register’s website here.