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High School Training Programs Help Fuel I-99 Region Workforce Development

The region's community colleges, career and technical programs work with local school districts to prepare students for high-tech, high-paying jobs.

By Phil Newman on June 30, 2015

As home to Penn State University in State College, as well as the second-largest campus in the Penn State system in Altoona, the I-99 Corridor has earned its reputation as a hotbed of higher education. But the region also boasts a number of community colleges, career and technical centers that work with area high schools to create an ever-widening pipeline of highly skilled and trained talent feeding directly to relocating and expanding businesses.

The Greater Altoona Career & Technology Center, for example, offers some 30 state-approved technical programs of study for high school students as well as eight full-time programs for adults. The history of vocational and technical training in public schools in Altoona actually dates to the period immediately following the Civil War when the PRR established training programs in the Altoona School District. And, as a northern industrial city, Altoona has always valued skilled craftsmanship. “As might be expected from the railroad heritage of Altoona and Blair County, there is an emphasis on training programs in welding, precision machining, diesel technology and electrical trades,” says Lanny Ross, executive director of the Greater Altoona Career & Technology Center. 

“The welding program is certified by the American Welding Society and, in fact, was the first program of its type in a secondary technical school to be approved by the AWS.” Ross says all seven high schools in Blair County participate in GACTC’s training programs. A well-developed guidance process has been developed for students in eighth and ninth grades to help lead students through program areas and possible career choices.

High school enrollment in areas such as welding, precision machining, electrical technology and diesel technology have steadily increased in recent years, and Ross says the skills learned in these programs help students gain access to employment in the region’s fast-growth industries, such as energy.

Needs-Based Training

Ross also cites the growing health-care field as reason for the dual enrollment program’s success. GACTC offers five health-care -related licensure and certifications, including certified nurse aide and expanded function dental assistant. The Bedford County Technical Center in Everett has also seen an uptick in student enrollment in programs geared toward the health-care industry.

“There has been a healthy demand for Certified Nursing Assistants over the past several years, due in part to our counties’ aging population,” says David DiPasquale, administrative director of Bedford County Technical Center. “The Technical Center has both a CNA program for secondary students and for post-secondary students to keep up with the demand.” BCTC enrolls some 450 high school students in its agriscience, biotechnology, automotive technology, building construction, cosmetology, culinary arts, health assistance and welding programs, and that number continues to grow.

“Over the past six years our enrollment has continued to increase. The high schools’ support of and rapport with BCTC has been phenomenal. Our schools have a solid reputation for teaching the academic foundations necessary for our students to build the technical skills that are in demand today,” DiPasquale says.

“In fact, last year, of the seniors that took the end of program skills exam, 97 percent scored either competent or advanced on the assessment of their skills and knowledge in their chosen trade area.”

Forging Viable Career Paths

The BCTC is also home to the Bedford County Center for Continuing Education and Workforce Development, which offers a variety of customizable programs in areas such as electromechanical, building trades, leadership and computer science to assist local businesses with their workforce training needs.

The center partners with the Allegany College of Maryland to provide technical training not only to high school and college students, but also to displaced workers and residents seeking new career paths. Like GACTC and BCTC, the Central Pennsylvania Institute of Science and Technology plays a pivotal role in developing the region’s skilled workforce. CPI specializes in high-demand, family-sustaining wage training in technical occupations such as health care, construction, heavy construction, energy and transportation. Over the past few years, the institute has expanded its energy training programs, adding an Emerging Energy and Infrastructure training lab, and is preparing to build a new health sciences building to house technician training.

Additionally, the South Hills School of Business and Technology, with its main campus in State College, offers specialized associate degrees in fields ranging from accounting and health information technology to graphic arts and criminal justice.

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