Educators are starting to see increasing growth in trade programs and colleges are paying attention as they seek the best way to train the emerging workforce.
At a Meet the Presidents breakfast program hosted by the Bethlehem Chamber of the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce at Hotel Bethlehem today, three educational leaders spoke about how their schools are adapting to create future workers for businesses in the Greater Lehigh Valley.
"Our vo-tech school has had some tremendous growth in the trades area," said Joseph Roy, superintendent of schools at the Bethlehem Area School District. "Bethlehem Vo-Tech is a critical partner to us."
Strong growth can be found in Bethlehem Area Vocational-Technical School's automotive technology, culinary and manufacturing programs, and Roy said the school is looking to expand its offerings. Currently, the manufacturing program has 25 students enrolled, Roy said.
Enrollment has been going up over the past couple of years at the vo-tech school, and Roy said parents also need to be educated about why students should consider a trade school education.
With 97 programs of study at Northampton Community College in Bethlehem, President Mark Erickson said the college is training the workforce of the Valley.
"The area that has the ability to change most quickly is the community college," Erickson said.
The college is constantly looking at what training programs are needed in the community and what jobs businesses are looking to fill. NCC has the agility to create those programs very quickly, Erickson said.
As an example, NCC created a line worker training program that's now up and running. Also, with the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act, the college saw a need from hospitals for a new type of career called "health coaches," navigators who help people who were patients at a hospital. As a result, NCC is creating a new program for health coaches to fulfill this role in the medical sector.
Also, the college trained 650 dealers to work at Sands Casino Bethlehem Resort and Mount Airy Casino Resort in Mount Pocono, Erickson said.
Most students who earn an education at NCC stay in the Lehigh Valley, Erickson added.
NCC also is strengthening the bond with the Bethlehem School District and talking with it to see how curriculum pathways can be more connected, Erickson said.
While focused on the liberal arts, Moravian College in Bethlehem is looking at how to train a workforce and make higher education less costly.
The college is looking at hybrid learning, which would be a mixture of both online and in-class courses, and offering a five-year master's degree.
"I don't know how we fix higher education," said Moravian President Bryon Grigsby. "We're educating a greater percentage of students [60 percent to 80 percent] than we ever did before."
Another issue is that colleges are creating workers for jobs that do not yet exist, Grigsby said. Colleges also are preparing students who will switch careers three or four times throughout their lives, a scenario much different than what colleges faced in the 1950s and 1960s, when graduates tended to stay with one career.
“We’re requiring our workforce to be more highly educated,” Grigsby said.
Moravian students tend to graduate earlier than at public colleges, he said.
“Ninety percent of our students graduate within four years,” Grigsby said.
Each educational leader spoke about partnering together and integrating their efforts to create better business opportunities.
“I do believe we need to be more vocationally-focused,” Grigsby said.