It’s every student’s – and every parent’s – nightmare. You graduate from college with tens of thousands of dollars in debt and can’t find a job in your field. You bide your time in another job that doesn’t fully make use of your skills...or pay you enough live on, let alone make student loan payments. It’s an all-to-familiar story for many students across Pennsylvania. 

With this nightmare scenario in mind, many high school students and their parents are considering other options, including vocational and technical education. The jobs of today and tomorrow are increasingly technical in nature, requiring workers with specialized skills best learned in a vocational/technical environment. And after decades of steering kids away from technical education, there is a shortage of workers in a variety of skilled trades that offer excellent pay and job security. 

To ensure today’s students are aware of these options and the opportunities they hold, I will soon introduce legislation that would direct the Pennsylvania Department of Education to identify programs of study that will train individuals for high-priority occupations with a focus on programs that provide industry-recognized credentials. This would include programs that are non-credit and programs that can be earned in less than two years. Students pursuing these programs of study would be eligible for scholarships from the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency. 

This legislation would expand on the existing Targeted Industry Cluster Certificate Program, which currently provides scholarships to students seeking employment in the agriculture, energy or construction sectors. My legislation would ensure the program is extended to other in-demand careers. 

Our region boasts two outstanding vocational/technical schools that stand ready to help put our high school students on the path to success. Both the Fayette County Career and Technical Institute in Uniontown and the Somerset County Technical School in Somerset offer more than a dozen programs ranging from computer sciences and health-related fields to automotive work, welding, HVAC, machine work, electrical and more. The schools also provide educational opportunities to adult learners in the region. 

Just as college isn’t for everyone, neither is a vocational/technical education. But after decades of steering students away from the vocational/technical track in favor of a liberal arts education, it’s time to rethink that strategy. The need for skilled trades workers and the growth in highly specialized, technical jobs makes the vocational/technical education option one very much worth the consideration of high school students and their families.