Competing in a global economy demands that we continue supporting manufacturing areas by providing skilled workers with certificates and degrees from qualified community and technical colleges.
This is a guest post by Mayor Jeff Longwell. This is the first post in a series about the Mayors’ Education Task Force.
As the mayor of Wichita, Kansas, I have seen the importance of investing in Career and Technical Education (CTE). At NLC’s recent Mayors’ Education Task Force meeting, I emphasized the role of local leaders in developing opportunities for youth and adults to gain meaningful employment in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) disciplines and technical industries. In Wichita, we have experienced the value of CTE as a conduit for rewarding careers in the fields of automotive maintenance and technology, advanced manufacturing, information technology, climate and energy control, and healthcare.
Wichita is known as the “Air Capital” of the world because of our expansive global aviation supply chain. Many of the early aviation pioneers came from, or have roots in, Kansas. This has enabled Wichita to also pioneer new technologies in advanced manufacturing, such as 3-D printing and robotics.
The specialized technical education required for these jobs often can be completed in a one- to two-year program. It is precisely these career technical education programs that are important to creating a successful and available workforce. Competing in a global economy demands that we continue supporting manufacturing areas by providing skilled workers with certificates and degrees from qualified community and technical colleges.
In 2013, the Brookings Institution reported that the cities of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Birmingham, Alabama, and Wichita had the largest share of STEM jobs not requiring a four-year degree. This report also found that half of STEM jobs do not require a four-year degree, although they pay 10 percent more on average than jobs with similar educational requirements. This knowledge has been a strength of our local economy for many decades, and it has helped build our industries and improve our citizens’ lives. Cities across our nation could benefit from increased access to quality credential programs and career pathways.
The state of Kansas recognized this several years ago and created scholarships that encourage people to obtain a variety of two-year technical certificates and degrees that help to grow our economy. The Kansas Department of Education prepares secondary students for this opportunity by using the National Career Cluster Model, grouping similar job skills into 16 fields of studies as Career Clusters. By developing structured career pathways, Kansas secondary students can access further education and employment opportunities right after high school graduation. The career pathways offered are developed in collaboration with business and industry leaders to ensure relevant and trade-worthy skills are embedded into the CTE secondary curriculum.
In Kansas, skilled automotive technicians who have completed a two-year education program can often earn six-figure salaries in the industry within the first few years of their career. Even with this reality, we see many industries and companies struggle to find people with the proper credentials and technical education to fill these jobs.
Here in Wichita, we are proud to have a leading example in our Wichita Area Technical College (WATC). This nationally-recognized technical college recently launched the Wichita Promise, a scholarship program that pays tuition and fees for training and certification for specific high-wage, high-demand jobs. Recently launched in 2016, the program works with local employers and provides personal career coaching and a guaranteed interview upon completion. WATC also works with our local high schools, providing students access to low-cost or free college and technical courses before students even graduate from high school.
In partnership with the new presidential administration and CTE advocates across the nation, I believe that adequate funding and marketing strategies can encourage education leaders, high school counselors, students and parents to explore a career and technical education pathway.
The critical requirement is that state and federal lawmakers support access to these opportunities and promote quality one- to two-year career technical education programs for adults and young people graduating high school. City leaders like myself have an important leadership role to play in guiding the momentum of our communities’ economic growth. With CTE, we can help employers find a ready and skilled workforce in our cities and improve citizens’ access to training and education, preparing them for quality, well-paying careers.
About the author: Mayor Jeff Longwell was elected to office in April 2015 and sits on NLC’s Mayors’ Education Task Force. He is a long-time resident of Wichita, having grown up in a west-side neighborhood and attended West High School and Wichita State University. Mayor Longwell began his community involvement as a member of the Board of Education at the Maize School, where his children attended school.