FORUM: Keep vo-tech strong

By Robert J. Klancko

THE New Haven Manufacturers Association applauds the decision of the state legislature's education committee to table a proposal by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to transfer control of vocational-technical schools from the state to local school districts.

The budget-cutting proposal would do more harm than good because it would result in less funding for the state's 16 vo-tech schools, which are providing badly needed training to manyConnecticut young people. The state's 19 agricultural science and technology programs are under local control and lack of support has them floundering. We don't want to see the same with the vo-tech program.

In appointing a task force to study the issue, the education committee has the right idea. We endorse the three options the committee wants to investigate: keep the status quo, create ties between vo-tech schools and community colleges or devise a regional system with fewer but more sophisticated education centers. A comprehensive study will help to define the best alternatives and the infrastructure of support that will be required.

People usually recognize the names of two Connecticut technological giants: Eli Whitney and Igor Sikorsky. These men achieved worldwide reputations for their technological and entrepreneurial prowess.

The state's vo-tech schools, along with their agri-science and technology counterparts are fine examples of STEM - science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. To achieve their successes, they are required to be the STEM leaders of their era, and they are successfully meeting this challenge.

We are seeking an educational model that incorporates STEM skills throughout the curriculums. The state and nation are comparatively weak in these areas, and to remain competitive globally, U.S.manufacturers need employees with STEM skills.

These skills are not being adequately taught in comprehensive high schools: 35 percent of the students entering college graduate within five years, according to the Connecticut Commissioner of Higher Education. Something is lacking in our focus, structure and implementation in the comprehensive high schools.

To serve the needs of manufacturers and other major employers, we need to encourage programs that produce STEM-proficient graduates, not cut back on them. Connecticut employers need employees who boast strong first-day employability skills. We need employees who can work in teams, solve problems and think critically.

The New Haven Manufacturers Association has found two programs that meet those needs: the vocational-technical schools and the agri-science and technology programs. The skills taught serve the students throughout their lives. These are skills of the future that will enable us to prosper.

The New Haven Manufacturers Association recently joined with U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro to obtain $750,000 in federal aid for new manufacturing equipment at Platt Regional Technical High School inMilford. This equipment will provide more sophisticated skills to the students, helping them to be immediately employable upon graduation.

Courses for Platt Tech students and students at Housatonic Community College are being taught using that investment, and the association is working to obtain similar grants for Eli Whitney Tech inHamden, and is looking at the needs of Emmett O'Brien Tech in Ansonia and Bullard Havens Tech inBridgeport.

Connecticut needs more Eli Whitneys and Igor Sikorskys if we are to maintain our technology leadership edge, and it is our cooperative challenge to create a learning environment to fulfill this critical need.

Robert J. Klancko is chairman of the Workforce Enhancement Committee of the New Haven Manufacturers Association and the Education Committee of the Southern Connecticut Chapter of the American Society for Materials International. Write to him at 2 Orchard Road, Woodbridge 06525. Email: