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Dr. Stuart Savin, Administrative Director Lancaster Career and Technology Center, stands next to several Miller Electric Multimatic 220 AC/DC welding machines as he gives a tour of the Willow Street campus and talks about the increased demand from students to attend the facility to compete for higher paying jobs needed within Lancaster County on Tuesday, July 19, 2022. The CTC spent three quarters of a million dollars in this room to provide the tools that students need for their training to complete this specalized education.

Adam Tuwati knew college wasn’t the right path for him, so he transferred from a nearby private school into Penn Manor School District expecting that the move would allow him to attend Lancaster County Career & Technology Center’s culinary program.

Instead, he landed on the CTC’s waitlist.

He’s one of nearly 200 students in the county on waitlists for CTC programs, with 17 on the culinary program’s waitlist alone. Those numbers, provided by CTC Communications and Marketing Coordinator Ileen Smith, may count some students twice as it includes students’ first- and second-choice waitlist designations.

Tuwati learned the hard way that the career and technology programs at the high school and post-graduate level are experiencing an increased demand. Since 2015, the number of career and technical education students in Pennsylvania earning industry-recognized credentials has increased by nearly 39%, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

Adam Tuwati

Adam Tuwati poses outside Penn Manor High School Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2022. Tuwati, a rising junior at Penn Manor, will be attending the high school full-time when he had really hoped to take classes as a culinary student at the CTC instead.

“If I have a trade or a skill, I know that I’ll be able to pack it up anywhere that I want to go and be able to get a job anywhere,” Tuwati said. “A lot of trades you can’t really replace with robots… so I feel like that’s always available and in demand.”

As Tuwati sits on the CTC waitlist, he’s considering other options like an early start at Lancaster County’s two-year accredited technical college, Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology.

Antonio Jackson, vice president of academic affairs at Thaddeus Stevens, sees the increase in demand for trade training from students like Tuwati as a natural response to living in a service economy. The growth of the U.S. economy relies on the provision of services, like food service or plumbing.

“A lot of the occupations that exist within that domain, they really don't require a four-year degree,” Jackson said. “The workforce demands ultimately drive how the economy moves, and the various industries that exist. And what we know is that the industries that are perhaps the most transformative from an economic perspective, just need workers that are skilled with some level of training but not necessarily a four-year degree.”

Businesses hiring those skilled in a trade are seeing a need for more workers as more employees are aging out than those entering the workforce, according to NPR.

According to an Association of General Contractors 2021 survey, 90% of 29 businesses in Pennsylvania hiring trade workers had open positions. Of those businesses, 88% said they’re having a hard time filling positions.

Over half of businesses surveyed tried to fill open positions by increasing base pay rates and 15% provided incentives or bonuses.

CTC Administrative Director Stuart Savin sees the growing demand for trade training as being driven by “great opportunity” in the job market. To keep up, the school has been increasing capacity for programs at its Willow Street, Brownstown and Mount Joy campuses. Overall, the school has upped the number of students it can take by 9%, from 1,565 in the 2018-19 school year to 1,709 in the upcoming school year.

This year, the CTC is on pace to be at 92% capacity as very few programs are without a waitlist.

Changing career paths

Tuwati did see the CTC as an opportunity. Rather than incur debt by attending college without the promise of a well-paying job, Tuwati said he’d rather pursue high-paying work.

“I don’t totally care what job I work necessarily unless I’m getting paid a good amount of money,” Tuwati said. “I know a lot of trades – especially after you get a good amount of experience… you’re gonna get paid a good salary.”

And, the CTC is free for public high school students. Districts pay by the student for the programs CTC offers.

Being on the waitlist for a two-year program, however, limits Tuwati’s options. When transferring out of Stone Independent School in Lancaster city, he said he thought he was guaranteed a spot at the CTC through Penn Manor. The rising junior is now interested in attending Thaddeus Stevens in his senior year.

Penn Manor offers an early enrollment program that allows students to complete their freshman year at Thaddeus Stevens while still a senior in high school. Students become full-time college students without any requirement to report to Penn Manor during the school day.

While at Thaddeus Stevens, Tuwati plans to enroll in the HVAC or plumbing programs – perhaps even welding. If a spot were to open up for the CTC’s culinary program, he said he’d decline it.

When he was first waitlisted, Tuwati said “I remember calling my mom and telling her that I have no clue what I’m gonna do now.”

“I was confused and shocked and I wasn’t really sure where to go from there,” Tuwati said. “But now looking back on it, I’m kind of happy I got waitlisted because now I’ve been able to explore other things that I enjoy a lot more than cooking food.”

New programming, new options

Not everyone has the same options to begin their post-graduate plans early, however.

“What about kids who don’t want to go to Stevens or don’t have the money to go to Stevens?” asked Tuwati’s mother, Cindi Moses.

Unless enough students drop out of the CTC during the school’s add or drop period in September, students on the waitlist this year might not have many options.

“What we've been doing is looking at our waitlist determining, is there a need, is there demand?,” Savin said. “As you can imagine being supported with public tax dollars, we're not just going to say, ‘hey, look, there’s 15 kids who want this program, we're gonna wait to make sure we have a timeline that shows there’s significant interest.”

Recently, Savin said the Willow Street campus at 1730 Hans Herr Drive in West Lampeter Township added a new 48-student room for welding technology. In the 2021-22 school year, the CTC repurposed former cosmetology classrooms at the Willow Street campus to host medical assistant classes, bringing the capacity for that program from 50 to 100 seats. The cosmetology program shuttered in the 2018-’19 school year.

The medical assistant and welding technology programs received a boost because the programs have seen an increased demand over the past five years. The medical assistant program, for example, had 19 on its waitlist in the 2018-’19 school year, 26 in 2019-’20, 33 in 2020-’21 and one last year. As of July 21, zero students are on the medical assistant waitlist.

Welding technology saw an increase in its waitlist from 33 in 2018-’19, 34 in 2019-’20, 45 in 2020-’21 and 26 in 2021-’22. As of July 21, 48 are still on the waitlist for welding.

Though the school’s automotive program has a waitlist of significance for the first time in a “very long time,” according to Savin, that program is not slated for any investments in the near future. To add to that program, Savin said the school would need three or four years of data saying the program is in high demand and has a high priority outcome in the industry.

Additionally, the CTC created the Pathways Toward Higher Education program to provide more opportunities for students on the waitlist. The school offers direct college-level credits for the courses that students take at the CTC during high school. At this time, this option is only available for automotive technology but the school has plans to offer more in the future.

Students on this path are on track to continue education after high school at the CTC, attend the Pennsylvania College of Technology, Students Occupationally and Academically Ready program, Excelsior College, Eastern Mennonite University and Thaddeus Stevens.

Seeking alternatives

Lancaster County’s 17 school districts aren’t sitting idly as waitlists grow either.

At a Penn Manor School Board meeting in March, school board member Christopher Straub said the district was looking into other possibilities to meet the demands of its students. Board President Carlton Rintz called the situation “a great problem to have.”

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Dr. Stuart Savin, Administrative Director Lancaster Career and Technology Center, stands next to several Miller Electric Multimatic 220 AC/DC welding machines as he gives a tour of the Willow Street campus and talks about the increased demand from students to attend the facility to compete for higher paying jobs needed within Lancaster County on Tuesday, July 19, 2022. The CTC spent three quarters of a million dollars in this room to provide the tools that students need for their training to complete this specialized education.

Penn Manor is sending 110 seniors to CTC programs and has 11 wait-listed seniors, according to spokesperson Brian Wallace. An additional 30 juniors have been-waitlisted as well.

“Students, as well as our teachers, counselors and the CTC are hearing industries cry for more workers,” said Penn Manor School District Superintendent Phil Gale. “So we have students that are going to take advantage of the opportunities that the CTC presents them with.”

For example, students on the waitlist can attend Penn Manor’s program with Thaddeus Stevens - the option Tuwati is considering - or work with counselors to identify another program of interest with an opening, Gale said.

Savin said the CTC selects students on a first-come, first-serve basis. Waitlists are by program rather than district, but the CTC tries to find a fair balance for the districts it serves.

Intro programs at each campus serve five or six districts in close proximity. For example, Penn Manor students attend the Willow Street campus. Full day programs for seniors are only offered at select campuses, so students attend them from all across the county.

Ephrata Area School District Superintendent Brian Troop said the district is trying to find internship placements or job shadow opportunities for students on the waitlist.

“If any employer has opportunities for students to come and learn what it's like to work in the trade that their organization supports, they should get involved in their local school district to make sure that happens,” Troop said.

Another solution, offering CTC programs within the district, can be difficult, Troop said. Finding a staff member who can teach a welding class, for example, isn’t an easy task.

“With increasing salaries of folks who have those skills to perform a trade, it’s becoming more and more challenging to find any staff member that will be able and willing to teach,” Troop said.

If the CTC continues to add programming, Savin said it will need to add more staff, but hiring has been a challenge for many schools across the country.

‘Success after high school’

As salaries and benefits increase for technical careers like welding and plumbing, heading straight into the workforce rather than attending a four-year college is more appealing to students.

Since the pandemic started, the number of students planning to attend an in-state technical school increased from 3% to 6%, according to the Association of Career and Technology Education.

Thaddeus Stevens hit a record enrollment of 1,340 students in 2019, Jackson said. During the pandemic, enrollment dipped by 100 to 200 students. For the upcoming year, Jackson said the college is going to hit a pre-pandemic level of enrollment in the 1,300 range again.

“I think that the stigma that was previously associated with technical programs or technical education is now diminishing or being debunked as a result of people now seeing that they can earn a technical credential and then as a result of that credential have a very successful career, earn a life-sustaining wage,” said Jackson.

The U.S. has also increased its support of the technical fields, said Jackson. During President Barack Obama’s administration, he said a focus was placed on America’s recovery transitioning out of the 2008 recession.

“It began to be recognized that two-year technical colleges will be key to rebuilding our economic foundation,” Jackson said. “That renewed focus on two year college was really driven by economic and workforce demands.”

Penn Manor and Ephrata Area school districts both saw a general increase in students entering the workforce after graduating from the Class of 2019 to the Class of 2022.

“The reality of those fields being able to support a lifestyle that students are interested in is becoming more known by our students,” Troop said. “Success after high school doesn't mean you have to go to college and success in high school can lead to a career in a trade that's rewarding, beneficial as the type of earnings that students want to be able to have as a career choice for them.”

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