Is there anyone out there who does not have a shortage of skilled labor?

Last month's Management Side of Engineering column explained what Tech Prep is and how it works. The discussion concludes this month as the authors examine the four standards categories of Tech Prep and how to create the program.
By Tom Huey, Technical Training Manager, Duracell, and J. Stanley McCallar, Georgia State Tech Prep Coordinator, Atlanta, GA November 1, 2000

Last month’s Management Side of Engineering column explained what Tech Prep is and how it works. The discussion concludes this month as the authors examine the four standards categories of Tech Prep and how to create the program.

One of the primary areas of concern for local Tech Prep programs is meeting established standards. The programs are evaluated on their ability to meet these standards, which fall into four categories: academic, employability, equity, and skills.

Academic standards are Tech Prep’s alone, and they may only need industry support for that part of the process. If you are lucky, schools may also want your input. Many school systems are in the process of adjusting their curriculum to reflect the needs of industry in a process called “work-based learning” or “contextual teaching.”

In the book Work-Based Learning, Dr. Jim Hoerner and Dr. James Wehrley define work-based learning as: “Knowledge/learning imparted to every student from the beginning of schooling that maintains a theme or focus that people work to live. There is positive connectedness between the schooling process and living productive lives.” The move to make learning more relevant needs industry’s input and support to be effective.

Employability standards to educators usually lead to a discussion about the Secretary’s Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills (SCANS), which was published in 1993. SCANS called for a set of standards for soft skills, including critical thinking, using information and technology, and working in teams. Tech Prep is the educational process designed to create a curriculum that addresses those skills.

Equity aspects of Tech Prep deal with the fact that the program is equally valuable for male and female students. The program is a way for industry to grow its own talent locally, and make conscious decisions about the content of the talent pool. At a time when finding diverse candidates for skilled trades is a critical problem, Tech Prep offers industry a chance to create the future.

Skills refer to the specific abilities needed for a particular job in the workplace. There needs to be a connection between education and the Manufacturing Skills Standards Council (MSSC). The MSSC is in the process of developing standards for skilled trades for industry.

Value can be added locally if industry serves as the contact between the schools and MSSC ( These job-specific skills are the ones that industry is in the position to address with the application of a co-op program under the guidelines of Tech Prep.

Creating a program

Industry’s first step is to contact the National Tech Prep Network (NTPN) ( NTPN helps put you in touch with local Tech Prep coordinators. When making contact with coordinators, express your interest and find out how the program is applied in the area. Be specific in asking what programs are available that dovetail with the Tech Prep concept of bringing co-ops into the plant during the last 2 yr of high school. There may be a variety of programs that address the issue from different perspectives. Whatever the names of the programs in the area, try to find the one that fits the Tech Prep definition.

The next step is to work with local schools to identify students invited into the first Tech Prep class. It might be wise to resist the urge to start big. Great results come from small beginnings.

Start with just a handful of candidates, for several reasons. First, schools are more comfortable with a small initial investment of their talent. Second, this group needs to be closely followed. Last, it must be a success. If the program is positive, word gets around that it’s a good thing to do. But if it fails, that fact also travels quickly.

Student participants in the initial program need to be the very best. The challenge is to recruit them, and very importantly their parents, to the program. Parents of the best students in any school have the same expectations for their children: Go to college and get a 4-yr degree, which is great but not necessarily for everybody.

The Tech Prep program is “2+2+2.” A useful technique when visiting candidates and their parents is to avoid “vocation” and “apprenticeship.” It is probably impossible to change the “must graduate from college” mindset of parents, students, or guidance counselors, but you can work with it.

What if Tech Prep at your company is a “scholarship” program? Your company probably offers continuing education for employees already. If this new and exciting opportunity were a “scholarship,” it would allow the student to co-op with the company for 2 yr while finishing high school, and go to a local community college for 2 yr while continuing to work at the company part-time. There are a couple of sales points here.

First, most parents would like their children to learn about working early. What better way to learn than by doing meaningful work at your company? Working in industry would be a far better experience than bagging groceries or flipping burgers.

Second, make the pay competitive or better. Remember that you also offer the prestige of working in industry and a scholarship. Reinforce the idea that you are not just offering a job, but a future with options.

At the end of the initial 4-yr period (2+2), the Tech Prep student comes to a decision point. After receiving an associate’s degree, the Tech Prep student has three options: leave the program, go to college to finish the requirements for a baccalaureate degree, or stay on as a part of the skilled workforce.

The first option is the worst case. The company has spent time and money training someone else’s skilled worker. The really bad news is that if you have had a chance to sell the worker on long-term employment in your company and failed.

The good news is that the company is known by its alumni. You may lose a worker, but gain a reputation for global thinking.

If the student decides to go college, maybe the company should continue the scholarship. At this point, the Tech Prep student enters the 2+2+2 option under the Perkins III legislation.

You do hire engineers, don’t you? Can you think of a better way to prepare an engineer than spending time in the tool and die shop? Taking the long-term view puts a different light on this option.

Maybe the student decides to stay on as a part of your skilled workforce. Everyone wins. In a way, everyone wins in all three scenarios. Considering the shortfall in skilled labor, that’s not a bad plan.

Welcome to the 21st Century!

Tom Huey has been with Duracell since 1996 and recently took on responsibility for developing and training skilled workers at eight company plants worldwide in four skill areas: mechanics, millwrights, tool and die makers, and industrial control technicians. Tom also works with the Manufacturing Skill Standards Council to help promote the development of workforce skill standards for manufacturing and related installation and repair workers.

Stan McCallar is a veteran educator with degrees from Middle Tennessee State University and Georgia State University. He is currently employed by the Georgia Department of Education and is active in the National Tech Prep Network and the National Association of Tech Prep Leadership.

Previously published

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