Several years ago, state lawmakers began discussing a ideas to help students who chose to pursue vocational training after high school rather than college.

Called the Learning for Work Act, the proposed legislation would establish “a youth apprenticeship program, an enhanced Regents professional diploma with a designation in a specified occupational area and a tax credit for employers who take part in the youth apprenticeship program,” according to online information pertaining to the bill. It was introduced into the state Senate during the 2015-16 legislative session and into the state Assembly in January 2018.

“For many current and future high school students, the traditional pathway of a basic high school education and then on to a four-year college may not be the correct route to take,” the legislation states. “These students would benefit from a program that would prepare them for employment immediately upon graduating high school.”

This rationale presents an important truth, and it’s good that officials recognize this. The estimated $5 million legislation seems to be lingering in committee in both the Assembly and Senate, so perhaps it doesn’t yet have sufficient support to move forward.

Republican lawmakers took a step last week to build momentum for this proposal. They held a public forum Wednesday at the Lewis County Jefferson Community College Education Center in Lowville.

Members of the Learning for Work Task Force solicited input from representatives in education, trade and industry as well as residents. The task force is made up of state Assemblymen Will Barclay, R-Pulaski; Kenneth Blankenbush, R-Black River; Mike Norris, R-Lockport; and Mark Walczyk, R-Watertown.

The Lowville forum was one of six regional meetings planned. Mr. Blankenbush and Mr. Norris serve as co-chairmen of the task force.

“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,” according to a story published Friday in the Watertown Daily Times. “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.”

Students need to know that higher education is not the only route to a successful career once they leave high school. Certainly, attending a college or university is a wonderful choice. Many young adults make extraordinary discoveries about themselves and their future options by continuing their education.

But this path isn’t for every individual, and that’s OK. Numerous students make good use of BOCES programs to learn a trade and make good livings.

There are excellent jobs waiting to be filled in the north country by the new generation of workers, and this bill would be a great step in furthering this goal. Legislators should take what they’re hearing at these forums and move the bill through the process of becoming a law.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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