Gov. Deval Patrick announces new program for vocational schools

By Erin Shannon | Enterprise News | September 14, 2012

AVON — Welding. Mechanical drafting. Metal layout. Machining.

Those are among the skills taught to students at Southeastern Regional Vocational Technical High School in Easton to prepare them for future jobs.

So school Principal David Wheeler was pleased to hear that Gov. Deval Patrick announced plans Thursday to ramp up efforts to draw more vocational high school students into manufacturing jobs – and the governor made the announcement at a company in Avon where some Southeastern Voke students learn their trade.

“Working inside for a good salary, for a stable company, with benefits, is where we want our kids to be,” said Wheeler.

According to a new study, titled “Staying Power II, A Report Card on Manufacturing in Massachusetts 2012,” the manufacturing industry in Massachusetts is alive and well.

On Thursday, in response to the study’s findings, the governor and other state officials came to AccuRounds in Avon to announce a new program, AMP It Up, that will reach out to vocational high schools and community colleges to boost interest in training for manufacturing jobs.

“Advanced manufacturing is resurgent in Massachusetts and we need to make the most of it,” Patrick said.

The officials also announced $5 million in state funding to improve workforce competitiveness and create workshops to promote awareness of capital and technical assistance for manufacturing companies.

AccuRounds, a contract manufacturer that machines and assembles precision components, has been in Avon since 1976. AccuRounds CEO Michael Tamasi hosted the state officials’ visit, which drew 200 industry leaders to a program presentation and company tour.

The AMP It Up program, announced by Lt. Gov. Tim Murray, is a new statewide career campaign to increase awareness about job opportunities within the manufacturing industry.

Barry Bluestone, director of the Kitty and Michael Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy at Northeastern University, which prepared the study, estimated that in the next decade there will be up to 100,000 job vacancies in the manufacturing industry due to workers retiring. Bluestone noted that 43 percent of the firms surveyed said it was difficult to find skilled workers.

AMP It Up will work with vocational high schools and community colleges to get students interested in those jobs. The program will aim to show students the manufacturing industry can provide opportunities and good salaries. One finding of the study was that the average annual wage in the industry is more than $75,000.

“It is a huge advantage for us if the jobs are out there and the companies want to come in and link up with the students and do co-ops,” Sarah Titus, a guidance counselor at Blue Hills Regional Technical Schools in Canton, said in a telephone interview after the gathering in Avon.

The program is also targeting community colleges. The study found that only one in eight manufacturing firms consider the state’s community colleges to be a training ground for their future workforce, compared to one in three who find vocational high schools important.

“We appreciate the governor’s support and grant opportunity in helping community colleges align curriculum with work force needs, particularly in the manufacturing area,” Barbara Finkelstein, senior vice president of Brockton’s Massasoit Community College, said in a telephone interview Thursday afternoon.

Massasoit spokeswoman Laurie Maker said the school has been considering an expandion of some programs, including diesel technology, that could help revamp the curriculum along the lines of AMP It Up‘s goals.

State Secretary of Economic Development Greg Bialecki said in Avon that training the next generation of manufacturing laborers remains one of the state’s biggest economic development and education challenges.

“We have not had enough young people going into manufacturing, so the age of our workforce is high and growing,” Bialecki said. “Of those 250,000 working now, there will be a lot of retirements and attrition in the coming decades and that means we’ll need tens of thousands to go into manufacturing.”

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