Pathways to good jobs: My plan to expand access to vocational and technical education

There are over 3200 students on waiting lists to attend vocational and technical schools in Massachusetts. Each year, students from our district sweat out the admissions process to get into Northeast Metro Tech.

This is a policy failure. 

The jobs that vocational schools prepare students for – plumbing and pipefitting, electrical work, carpentry, robotics, and more – are jobs that will always be available, despite recessions and changes to the global economy. These are jobs that have offered pathways to the middle class to generations of families. 

We need to invest in the future of all of our students, no matter their aspirations – four-year college, a two-year program, or pathways into the workforce. 

If elected, I will focus on these priorities to expand access to vocational and technical education and job training programs:

Clear the waiting lists: We need to build enough capacity for vocational education to clear the 3200 student waiting list. Massachusetts officials rightly spent years crafting a plan to reform education funding, through a study commission mandated by the Legislature. I will propose a similar commission whose charge will be to expand access to vocational and technical education to all students who want it by 2030. 

There are many ways we can do this: creating more vocational programing in academic high schools, expanding “dual enrollment” programs that allow students to split time between academic and vocational schools, and expanding existing or building new vocational high schools. We should study which approaches are most effective and feasible, and get them done as quickly as possible. 

Work to ensure more access to vocational and technical education locally: Current discussions for the new Revere High School include having vocational education as part of the new school. I applaud these efforts and will fight to ensure they remain part of the plan. I will also work to expand access to these programs throughout the district. 

Fix the admissions process: Due to lack of seats and competitive admissions, students from low-income backgrounds, English language learners, and students with disabilities are underrepresented in vocational schools. Northeast Metro Tech is less diverse and has fewer economically disadvantaged students than Revere High and Chelsea High. This needs to be fixed. 

Fight for strong Project Labor Agreements that follow the example of Suffolk Downs: In November, a historic Project Labor Agreement was signed for the upcoming Suffolk Downs development. The PLA ensured that the project will not only create union jobs, but also fund for job training programs to ensure those who live in the working-class communities of Revere and East Boston have access to the union jobs being created. Leaders at the state and local level must advocate for similar agreements as part of future development.

Workforce development programs in our cities: The Next Stop Revere planning process outlines steps the city can take to invest in its residents by partnering with employers moving into the region to create job training programs. Communities like Revere, Chelsea and Saugus should be looking to partner with local community colleges, workforce development boards, and employers on such efforts. The next State Representative should play an active role in securing state funding and support for these programs. 

Community college access: We already know where many of the middle-class jobs of the future will come from – advanced manufacturing, robotics, wind and solar energy, and other similar fields. Two-year programs at community colleges can prepare students for careers in these fields, but we chronically underinvest in these schools. Massachusetts must work to make two-year programs at our community colleges free and accessible to all residents. 

I will host a Virtual Town Hall to discuss these proposals on Tuesday, May 5 at 6:00 PM with Lew Finfer, co-chair of the Alliance for Vocational and Technical Education. You can questions and stream the event on my Facebook page, www.facebook.com/joegrav

With decisive action by the state government, Massachusetts can clear the backlog of students waiting to get into vocational education programs, and give more students access to a quality educational experience that meets their needs. 

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