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LVEDC Q&A with BAVTS’ Brian Williams

By LVEDC Staff on July 16, 2013

Editor’s Note: The Bethlehem Area Vocational Technical School has been servings students since 1964, although their origins can be traced back decades prior to that. The school is located in Bethlehem Township and is an educational partnership with the Bethlehem Area, Northampton and Saucon Valley school districts. Our interview with Executive Director Brian Williams focused on some of the more salient topics impacting our Lehigh Valley workforce today.

How has vocational-technical training changed – and what specifically has BAVT done to help train tomorrow’s workforce today?

Vocational Training, now called Career and Technical Education training, has undergone many significant changes over the past several years. The emphasis on broad based employability skills, including academically related skills has brought a higher level of standard to the CTE System. BAVTS is one of many career and technical schools across PA that have embraced the need to deliver students with more advanced skills sets to employers and post-secondary education providers.  We have made significant gains in a variety of performance areas, including our NOCTI standardized testing achievement, sending school academic testing support, and recognized industry certifications for our students.

What do you think are the biggest challenges concerning Lehigh Valley businesses and a trained  workforce?

Employers tell me that they cannot find talented, responsible employees in the region.  They cite a lack of reading, math, social skills, etc.. in our students and younger workers as reasons for this concern. School districts are battling with political and social pressures to deliver more with less resources than in the past.  Employers, more than ever, need to get directly involved with the public school system and support its efforts to produce quality future students and potential local workers.  We have found that our students can overcome many obstacles when someone of stature takes a sincere interest in their future.  Investment of time, talent, and yes, treasure, needs to be made in our youth to create and sustain necessary resources that permit career and technical training to take place for them, as well as for our adults who seek new and additional training.

What steps have been taken to convince students – and their parents – that vo-tech is perhaps a smarter career move than the traditional 4-year college curriculum?

That statement should not be a blanket statement because data indicates that a BS Degree is an advantageous pathway for our youth to make a good living. The problem is it is not for everyone, and that is hard for people to accept, when their personal and family goals are for their children to become more successful in life than they were.  Effective marketing has been a challenge for public education as well as career and technical education.  We do not have the right to tax people for billboards and commercials that shout our message to the public.  What we have done in recent years is excel in the classroom, which has begun a loud message to the parents in our communities and our academic partners that career and technical educational options are now of great value to their children, regardless of how far they wish to take their educational pathways. Economically speaking, our student success stories justify the fact that our students in many cases do not incur the huge debt loads that many younger adults today have with their college loans. Our student graduates in many cases quickly become assets to the community because of their ability to immediately contribute their skills to the local economy.  In many such cases employers are happy to have their talents and further subsidize their educations.

What are the most popular courses offered at BAVT – and how have student numbers been the past few years?

We are lucky to be as diverse as we are, offering a genuine variety of career opportunities across thirty plus programs.   Recent interest levels are rising in mechanical program areas, creative arts related programs, and service related occupations have been rising steadily.  This group of career clusters encompasses most of our program areas.  A reflection of the success we have had the past five years has resulted in increased enrollment of approximately 20% during this time period.  Most programs are near, or at, our internal enrollment capacity limits that were established for important reasons of safety and educational quality.

How does BAVT work with area industries to tailor offerings that can take students straight from BAVT to the working world – and to do so at a good salary?

BAVTS programs operate under strict standards as far as delivering educational content via state approved curriculum and best practice-type instructional methods.  Locally, we engage Occupational Advisory Committees from our represented Industries to advise, help to equip, and support our programs toward delivering the most current and needed skills sets they require of their workers.  Occupational data is collected and utilized to ensure that the programs we offer meet or exceed local, regional, and state standards for generating family sustaining wages and so the programs also meet a ”high priority” occupational status, a statewide standard for program performance criteria. Additionally we have in place a strong school to work transition program that enables successful students to test the waters of the local workplace prior to high school graduation. In many such cases, these students remain with the Cooperative Education employers beyond high school.

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