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Forty years of preparing the adult workforce

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The Lehigh
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The Lehigh Career & Technical Institute houses $3.5 million worth of training equipment for its pre-engineering and engineering technology courses in manufacturing, which includes this industrial robot used for automation. - (Photo / )

When 27-year-old Jose Ofray of Allentown was laid off from his position as a customer service representative for T-Mobile, he never dreamed that enrolling at Lehigh Career & Technical Institute in Schnecksville would lead him to a job where he now travels the world as a field service engineer.

“They [LCTI] make you feel like they really care about you,” Ofray said. “Within a couple of months, I felt like it was my uncle or family teaching me, and when you feel more comfortable with teachers, you learn more.”

A technical school since 1971, LCTI’s 500,000 square feet of buildings on 45 acres became commonly known by Lehigh Valley high school students as “vo-tech,” where thousands of students over the years have spent half of their high school days learning various trades, including in cosmetology and electrical construction.

Today, LCTI is the third largest technical school in the nation, offering a comprehensive adult workforce education program, enrolling about 1,300 adults a year such as Ofray, who graduated in a year’s time with a certificate in electrical mechanical and mechatronics.

“LCTI is the best in the country,” said Jack Pfunder, CEO of Manufacturers Resource Center in Allentown. “Almost anyone graduating from this curriculum, we can find them a good job.”

Pfunder, who has been the chair of LCTI’s manufacturing council the last eight years, advises and helps to develop curriculum for the school’s pre-engineering and engineering technology courses that house $3.5 million worth of training equipment.

“I was so impressed by the size and quality and the breadth of what goes on there,” Pfunder said. “I had never seen anything like it.”

LCTI has built relationships over the years with many companies in the Greater Lehigh Valley, including B. Braun Medical, Nestle Waters, Sam Adams, Niagara and Just Born.

B. Braun, with the support of the Lehigh Valley Workforce Investment Board, is partnering with LCTI to roll out a paid rotational internship for adult students and other technical institutes in the Lehigh Valley, where students would rotate for four weeks at a time through different manufacturing companies in the region.

“The manufacturing companies are looking for technicians that are well-rounded,” said Ted Martin, LCTI’s lead instructor for electromechanical and mechatronics and a retired senior electronics designer for AT&T. “They need technicians that have an educational background, and there are not a lot of programs out there to prepare them for it.”

Expected to be up and running by next spring, the rotational internship was beta tested in Lehigh Valley high schools last year and will be funded by a portion of a $500,000 grant from the state, which is aimed at funding manufacturing activities throughout Pennsylvania.

“We just need to get more kids to know the benefits of manufacturing and of career and technical schools,” Pfunder said.

Even though LCTI’s adult workforce education has been around since the school began more than 40 years ago, offering a multitude of courses, including in commercial driver’s license training, the school has been seeing a significant spike in available jobs since the 2008 downturn in the economy and with the recent revitalization efforts in the Lehigh Valley.

To respond to the job market, LCTI is ramping up marketing efforts to attract more adults to the school’s programs, hoping for a chance to prepare them to snap up the region’s available positions.

“Workers today are not fully prepared,” said Jan Klevis, LCTI’s director of postsecondary and workforce education. “Old skills have to be up-skilled.”

In addition to updating its adult education marketing materials, LCTI a few weeks ago began a Facebook campaign, followed by advertisements on billboards and radio.

“We are trying to increase awareness for the demand of jobs,” said David Bracetty, LCTI’s public relations coordinator.

LCTI offers five concentrations for its adult workforce education programs: manufacturing, heavy equipment, transportation, construction and mechanics.

Within each concentration, there are three to four certification courses to choose from, which all range in hours required for completion and can be combined with other courses for dual certifications.

LCTI’s heavy equipment program continues to be popular at LCTI, with courses including dump truck certification and environmental sustainability.

“It’s a very unique program,” Klevis said. “It’s very hands-on training.”

For the school’s mechanics program, it recently bought a new Mack Truck to provide more advanced training. The school’s transportation program includes CDL courses that are structured to have one-on-one, four-hour driving sessions, Klevis said, whereas other technical schools take up to four students in a truck at a time.

The construction program offers four courses, including plumbing, residential electricity and heating, ventilation and air conditioning.

“Once companies hear about us, they want to be involved,” Klevis said. “And they want to be first in line for our graduates.”

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Jennifer Glose

Jennifer Glose

Reporter Jennifer Glose covers health care, Berks County and other topics. She can be reached at jenniferg@lvb.com or 610-807-9619, ext. 111. Follow her on Twitter @jenniferg_LVB and read her blog, “Networking,” at http://www.lvb.com/section/networking-blog.

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