LOWVILLE — Whether a trade apprenticeship, manufacturing training or healthcare provider certification, attendees at the Learning for Work forum Wednesday evening agreed that trade and vocational training needs to be “re-branded” as a legitimate choice for children, not just a second-choice alternative to college.
About 30 people attended the two-hour forum at the Lewis County JCC Education Center, sharing ideas about the high school apprenticeship program proposed in the Learning to Work legislation that would create a pathway for work for students directly out of high school.
Co-chairman of the state Assembly task force that led the event, Assembleyman Kenneth Blankenbush, R-Black River, said that letting young people know the options available to them that don’t involve going to college is important because college may not be what every student wants or is best suited to do.
Finding jobs in the area will also keep young people in the area and help to stem the population decrease.
Copenhagen Central School English teacher and the teacher’s union Political Action Coordinator Laurie Atkinson offered ideas like grants to have speakers come to address kids at a younger age about manufacturing and the trades, scholarships for trade schools and having job fairs for high school students in addition to college fairs.
“We need to be sending the message, ‘We value what you’re good at,” Ms. Atkinson said.
She also raised a point that Mr. Blankenbush and his co-chair, Assemblyman Michael Norris, hadn’t heard in previous discussions: many people in their 20s, 30s and older who struggle to find or keep employment are those that could have benefitted from the type of program Learning to Work is proposing.
An invited speaker at the event, Casey Smith, offered a real-life example of what the right course at the right time can do to change a person’s life.
Mr. Smith was one of about 26 unemployed or underemployed spring graduates of a course that earned industry-recognized credentials in carpentry organized by JCC at the Lewis County facility.
“It was a wonderful program with a great instructor. It opened up doorways I never thought I’d see in this area,” Mr. Smith said.
He said he is now working for a large construction company and, despite having his GED and having never felt comfortable in school, became a certified instructor and is now leading the second round of the course he took that started this week.
Mr. Blankenbush said this is the first forum that didn’t have a number of the manufacturers attend, but he was pleased to hear from representatives of The ARC, in the healthcare field, Cornell Cooperative Extension for agriculture, which is also battling to find workers, and the electricians union.
Assemblyman Will Barclay, R-Pulaski, said that while this was his first forum, he hadn’t considered work force issues outside of the manufacturing realm but it was eye opening to hear from these other industries, broadening the scope of what the Learning to Work legislation could do.
With the information gathered at the forums, Mr. Blankenbush said they will be compiling a report and reworking legislation already written to “bring it to anyone that will sit down and listen to us. We don’t want to do a report for the file.”
Assemblyman Mark Walczyk, R-Watertown, also participated in the panel.