Erie One BOCES is expanding its welding training program in the Town of Tonawanda—another sign of increasing interest in vocational education or what is currently called career and technical education.
Many local businesses—and probably most of those in manufacturing—will report shortages of skilled workers and concern about where replacements will come from for workers who retire. Traditionally, they came from vocational programs in Buffalo schools and from BOCES.
BOCES Career and Technical Education Director Mike Capuano says welding may seem a dirty job—although much less so today than yesterday—but it pays well, even right out of high school.
"Tends to be anywhere in the $15 to $18 range," Capuano said. "There are exceptional benefits, as well, and then certainly the more high-skilled individuals that continue on in their training and advance have greater opportunities for income. It is definitely tough work and it is definitely demanding."
Capuano said they are also lifetime jobs.
"Coming into a program as a high school student for two years, over 800 hours of instruction with us at Erie 1, working with a highly-skilled teacher and having all of the equipment and supplies and support that they need. The benefit of coming in, picking that skill up, is something they can use for the rest of their lives," Capuano said.
Erie 1 BOCES has 2,300 high school students and works with 4,000 adults. BOCES 2 covers Southern Erie County, along with Cattaraugus and Chautauqua counties. Superintendent David O'Rourke says these welding and manufacturing training programs are essential to economic development by providing skilled workers.
"Manufacturing jobs are far more technical and they aren't dark, dirty and dangerous like they used to be," O'Rouke said. "I think that there is something to be said for not only the income that students can make, which is one measure of satisfaction that someone might get out of a career."
The State Education Department appears to recognize it needs to revive vocational programs, as it replaces the longtime slogan "college ready" with "college and career ready." Changes at the Department allow vocational programs to be used to get that high school diploma. Many with welding education go on to college, as well as blue collar jobs.