State works on future of CTE programs

By Jonathan Gallardo

Gillette News Record

Via Wyoming News Exchange

GILLETTE — The state is working to create a five-year plan to determine the future of career and technical education.

The Wyoming Department of Education is hosting listening sessions around the state to gather feedback on how Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education grant money will be administered over the next five years.

The Perkins Act provides the majority of funding for Career and Technical Education in Wyoming. Congress passed the fifth version of the Perkins Act, Perkins V, in July 2018.

CTE State Director Michelle Aldrich was in Gillette on Tuesday for three listening sessions. She said although the state will create its own five-year plan, it might have to live with that plan for much longer than that because of how slowly the federal government moves.

The good news is that with Perkins V, “states have been given a lot more flexibility,” she said.

“We can create a plan that’s unique to Wyoming,” she said. “Not always do federal programs come to us that work really well with our rural population.”

Perkins V is all about building relationships between educators, the community, businesses and students, Aldrich said.

Wyoming will receive $5 million in Perkins funding for the 2019-20 school year. It’s one of five states that receives the minimum amount. The federal government invests $1.2 billion annually throughout the country.

Tuesday, Aldrich met with educators from Gillette, Upton, Sundance and Moorcroft.

“They’re very concerned about the pipeline of teachers to teach courses,” she said.

Tom Shepherd, an industrial electricity instructor at Gillette College, said Perkins has helped his program buy industry standard equipment, which prepares his students for the real world.

Thanks to co-op programs at the coal mines, Shepherd said that “every one of our freshmen that wants a job in the electrical industry has one right now.”

“That’s the kind of story we want to hear from every single program that we fund,” Aldrich said.

“This community is incredible as far as the support they give to the college,” Shepherd said.

One of the college’s biggest concerns is finding instructors because they can make a lot more money in industry, he said.

“Getting young guys interested (in teaching) is really tough,” Shepherd said. “They have to have the passion to educate and understand they won’t get rich from doing this.”

Richard Cisneros with Powder River Heating said the average age of a service technician in the HVAC industry is 53. The push for students to get four-year college degrees has led to a skills gap.

“It’s going to take a long time to turn that around,” he said.

“There are a lot of jobs in Wyoming that don’t require a four-year college degree, and we haven’t done a very good job about talking about those career opportunities,” Aldrich said.

Aldrich pointed out that every day, between 25,000 and 28,000 people retire, and “there’s no way we’re preparing that many people every day for jobs.”

“We’re educating students today for jobs that don’t even exist. So hopefully we’re giving them a skill set that will transition as those jobs come along,” she said. “But it’s a challenge because we have emerging technology, and technology changes so quickly that it’s hard to keep up.”

Aldrich said she hopes that one day “we’ll start talking about individualized learning plans for every student.”

“Instead of treating students like cookie cutters, we really need to identify a student’s interest and their strengths, guide and direct them into a career that will emphasize those strengths and their passion,” she said.