It’s not an educational initiative, it is an economic initiative where students can get a diploma and gain industry-relevant experience in advanced manufacturing
By Steve Yablonski
The Oswego County P-TECH program is dedicated to offering students from all school districts in the county the opportunity to concurrently earn a Regents high school diploma and an associate’s degree, while gaining industry-relevant experience in advanced manufacturing.
There are about 38 P-TECH programs around the state currently. It started in a Brooklyn high school. The model was a partnership between higher education and industry to serve students; to help them transition from high school, through college and into industry.
“The Oswego County P-TECH program was launched in 2016. The goal was to provide students not only technical and academic skills to succeed in the field of advanced manufacturing, but develop the professional skills that local industry had communicated was lacking in the workforce, said Brian R. Heffron, principal, Oswego County P-TECH.
Facing a growing shortage of skilled workers in the field, the model was built on a partnership between K-12, higher education and local industry.
“The idea was to build a program that provided students a high school Regents diploma, an industry-recognized associate degree and workforce experience through industry mentoring, job shadowing, paid internships and industry credentialing that led students straight from college into careers in Oswego County and beyond” Heffron said. “More importantly, it gives students a pride and ownership of finding a lucrative career in Oswego County where they could grow families and contribute to local economies.”
P-TECH is not an educational initiative, it is an economic initiative, he added.
The local program is funded through a grant, shared by the department of education and the local school districts.
“We have a staff size of 16, 11 of which are teachers. Our curriculum ranges from traditional classes such as English, math, physics and social studies to specialized classes in technical report writing, coding, machine tools, intro to manufacturing and more,” Heffron said.
P-TECH students are provided a six-year window to complete the program requirements that include a cost-free college education. The students participate in a curriculum designed by local advanced manufacturing professionals.
“We provide the support for the students; we give them what they need to succeed,” Heffron said.
“Oswego County P-TECH students are familiar to us. By the time they graduate from the program, we have had multiple opportunities to interact with the students through manufacturing plant tours, industry challenges, job shadowing and internships,” said Greg Hilton of Huhtamaki. “We have observed them developing and applying their technical and professional skills to real world problems that relate to our business. The Oswego County P-TECH students are prepared and ready to add value to our business.”
According to Andrew Quinn, director of human resources at Novelis: None of what we do in manufacturing, especially at Novelis, would be possible without our people. The innovative technologies, complex machine centers… those are all designed, maintained and run by people. Manufacturing is truly powered by people. Programs like P-TECH help us actively participate in the development of future STEM and manufacturing professionals, as we contribute our subject matter industry expertise to help develop the curriculum and participate in the mentoring and tutoring of the bright and motivated P-TECH students. Through these programs we can identify top talent and provide them with learning and career opportunities.
“P-TECH graduates have participated in rigorous training and development. Not only in technical trades but in skills that make them critical thinkers, curious problem solvers and, perhaps, most importantly strong team players and collaborators,” he added.
In May of 2021, the first class of P-TECH completed the program. They started in 2016 as ninth graders.
Students averaged the age of 19, owed no college debt and were offered good paying jobs in the field of electrical technology and mechanical technology.
The average starting salary of our graduates was $62,000, Heffron pointed out.
More than 140 students are currently enrolled in the P-TECH program representing nine school districts. There are more than 10 partners including: EJ, Novelis, Huhtamaki, NET & Die, Healthway, C&S, Fulton, Davis-Standard, ATTIS and the Oswego County Workforce Development.
More than 40 industry mentors partner up with the students five times a year.
The industry partners don’t just sign on and say, ‘we support the program,’ Heffron said. They are boots on the ground, actively involved and helping the students succeed, he said.
“Our industry partnership with the Oswego County P-TECH program is a specific workforce development strategy for our business. We know that in order to maintain our business success we need a highly skilled workforce that can grow with us,” Hilton said. “The Oswego County P-TECH program is delivering a pipeline of candidates that helps support our workforce needs.”
“Novelis, along with our industry partners, invest and participate in P-TECH to help foster the development of the next generation of skilled problem solvers, empowered to meet the challenges before us through critical thinking, skill development and teamwork,” Quinn said. “Through ongoing mentorship and collaboration, Novelis collaborates with the P-Tech program for work-based learning, empowering students to pursue advanced education, career opportunities and to be successful in the global and local economy.”
The program is curriculum focused, and can be challenging.
They only accept students entering ninth grade. The May graduates completed the work in five years; the program is designed to be six years.
Students apply to be admitted during the transition from middle school to high school. Each year, 35 to 40 students are accepted into the program. They undergo a rigorous on-line application. A letter of recommendation is required, from a teacher, a parent and a counselor. Next, the student has a virtual interview with a representative from the education side and the industry side.
“Based on the interview and recommendations, we select students for the program,” Heffron explained. “We’re looking for those students who are motivated, with passion and drive to succeed. The program is challenging. But, the reward at the end of the day for students is great.”
They are adding new students left and right, Heffron said. There are more females taking part in the program now; there was an increase this year, he added. Currently, they have 32 female students out of 140 in the program.
The program is putting pride back into a new generation of skilled workers, according to Heffron.
“They are passionate about their work, passionate about their communities and passionate about giving back to other students out there who want to work in the field of STEM and don’t want to have to leave the region or state,” he said.
On the flip side, there is excitement building when you talk to local manufacturers about a future trained workforce to help move the county forward, he added.
The students are ready to go to work; industry no longer has to look outside Oswego County for workers. The kids are going to stay in the county, raise families here, Heffron said.
Current students act as ambassadors, visiting school districts to help promote the program.
“With a retiring workforce (30% in the next five to seven years), it’s absolutely critical that we collaborate with educational institutions such as CiTi BOCES, the MOST, CMOO, SUNY Oswego, local school districts, etc. to create space and opportunities for the next generation of skilled problem solvers, innovators and skilled technicians and craftsman,” Quinn said. “Workforce development is a key priority. We need highly skilled individuals. Whether it’s electricians, engineers, technical craftsman… there are many opportunities for high paying and rewarding careers. Programs like P-TECH are so critical for our industry because they help build a strong pipeline of STEM and manufacturing professionals.”
The deadline for new students entering Cohort VI ended in April.
“We will be recruiting students (Cohort VII) during the winter of 2021-22,” Heffron said. “Interested students should contact their home district’s school counselor or principal. They can also visit wwww.citiboces.org/ptech.”