MERIDEN — School officials are planning a new pilot course at Platt and Maloney high schools next fall to introduce students to manufacturing careers.
Meriden Public Schools, in partnership with the Workforce Alliance, will launch the course at both schools next fall.
The Board of Education’s curriculum committee discussed that proposed course earlier this month.
A description of the course states it will provide the prerequisite skills for manufacturing careers.
The course would introduce students to computer-aided design and drafting, measurement standards and manufacturing methods.
Meriden Public Schools Director of Technology Susan Moore, who oversees the career and technical education departments at Platt and Maloney, said the aim is to prepare students for workforce success after high school.
State reported data on graduation rates show increased numbers of Meriden students are graduating within four years. For example, in 2020, 85% of that year’s graduates completed high school on-time. By comparison, in 2011, just under 70% of high school seniors had graduated on-time.
Despite the increase in high school graduates, the percentages of students who opt for colleges or other programs has shifted little. For example, in 2015, roughly 56% of the city’s high school graduates continued their education. Four years later the rate stood at 53%.
A statewide report, issued by the Governor’s Workforce Council in late 2020, found in certain sectors, like manufacturing, demand for skilled workers continues to exceed the number of employees available. For example, the report projected that sector alone needs 6,000 employees annually. However, existing programs were only able to train half that number of employees, the report stated.
The report proposed a multi-faceted approach that includes increasing manufacturing programs offered in technical high schools, like Wilcox Technical High School, and comprehensive high schools, like Maloney and Platt.
Meeting future workforce needs
So officials like Moore are continually looking to prepare students who are not immediately college bound.
“We want to expose students to as many potential careers as possible to help them figure out what they want to do and potentially don’t want to do,” Moore said. “We also want to make sure we are preparing them for careers in demand, high opportunity jobs.”
That means partnering with agencies like Workforce Alliance and looking at labor market trends. Meriden Public Schools receives funding for career and technical education through the federal Perkins Grant. One of that grant’s requirements is assessing labor market needs.
“The jobs of the future are not the jobs we prepared students to enter 20 years ago,” Moore said.
Workforce Alliance President and CEO Bill Villano said the program, called Skill Up, is based on a successful one developed by industry and school partners in eastern Connecticut. It was developed as a five-week program intended to provide enrollees with the core skills needed to work in a manufacturing facility.
Villano described that original program, which included manufacturers like Electric Boat, as having been “very successful.” It led to job placements for hundreds of individuals.
So Workforce Alliance is utilizing state funding to replicate that program. The agency is working with the Meriden and Wallingford school districts, along with New Haven Adult Education, Villano said.
He said the state already has strong manufacturing programs through its partnership with community colleges and other training institutions. But they don’t have enough capacity to fill industry needs.
“The issue is they don’t produce enough graduates,” Villano said.
Seed money to build
Meriden is still in the early stages of its partnership with Workforce Alliance. The program will require potential instructors to receive direct training at various job sites.
Villano is hopeful the partnerships with local school districts will help close the gap between industry needs and the available workforce.
Jill Watson, director of special grants and projects for Workforce Alliance, described the grant money received by Meriden Public Schools and Wallingford before that as “seed money to build” the program’s curriculum.
Before the agency rolled out the grant program, its leaders met with 13 area manufacturers.
“We provided them with the curriculum and assessments students take and asked, ‘Will this work for your company? Will this give students the skills they need?’” Watson said.
Those manufacturers responded “yes.”
Watson explained school districts that have developed similar programs have taken different approaches. Some districts have embedded the entire five week program into the school year. Others have introduced students to the academic components in school so they can pass those necessary assessments. Then they move on to training on job sites.
“This is an opportunity that can be tailored to how the school district wants to do it,” Watson said.
Meriden Board of Education President Rob Kosienski Jr. spoke in support of the program. Kosienski noted local manufacturers are also in support.
“There’s a strong need for a career in manufacturing,” Kosienski said.