It’s certainly no secret that the Northeast in general, and Connecticut in particular, have lost untold thousands of manufacturing jobs over the decades — lost them to cheaper-labor states in the South, or to Latin America or Asia. Anyone old enough to remember what Meriden was like during World War II — with many big shops humming away for three shifts a day — can testify to that.
That history is not going to be reversed, ever. But there are still manufacturers active in our state, and some of them complain that they have jobs unfilled because of a lack of qualified candidates. It’s just a fact of life that, these days, simple assembly work — what might be called “put-this-piece-here-and-that-piece-there” work — is in low demand. What’s needed today, educators say, is a much higher level of training, specialized training in skilled-trade areas.
Enter the new Career Academy program at Wilcox Technical High School, which officials from the Meriden Public Schools and the Connecticut Technical Education and Career System described as the first of its kind in the state. It's open to students from Meriden’s Platt and Maloney high schools.
In all, 23 Platt and Maloney students have enrolled in the Career Academy program, which was launched recently. A group of them recently had their first lessons in culinary arts and on a computer numerical control milling machine, which is used in precision manufacturing.
Although the term “career academy” has been used before, for instance in 2012 at Naugatuck Valley Community College in Waterbury and a decade earlier at Asnuntuck Community College in Enfield, this is a new program that focuses on students at Meriden’s own high schools.
For a long time, the conventional wisdom in this country has been that just about everyone should go to college. But is that a reasonable view? And article in Education Week last year stated that “74 percent of those who attended college to ‘do what was expected of them’ dropped out or transferred.” Perhaps many of them would have been better served if they could leave school equipped with the skills and knowledge they would need to become more employable in a specific field of their choice.
“Today really is about our students,” Meriden School Superintendent Mark Benigni said of the program at Wilcox. “This gives them a greater opportunity ... to learn real-life job skills that we know are so important for our students, but also for our community and our business partners.”
One size doesn’t fit all, and the Career Academy may open some new doors.