In Bucks County, there are many career and technical education (CTE) centers that aim to give students options as they explore possible career paths. Middle Bucks Institute of Technology (MBIT) and Upper Bucks County Technical School (UBCTS) are two of the largest CTE centers in the area.
“MBIT has seen a huge increase in demand,” former Central Bucks School Board president Dana Hunter before leaving office this month. “The perception of trade schools has changed dramatically, a lot of students in these programs go on to 4-year colleges.”
MBIT Administrative Director Mark Covelle spoke about the importance of career and technical education and the applicability of the lifelong skills learned at institutions such as his.
“We know that these jobs are in high demand,” he said. “And these jobs are jobs for the future, they’re not low-paying jobs in poor work conditions of times gone by, these are high-paying, in-demand, high-technology jobs, so there are more openings now than we have individuals to fill them.”
“I think the opportunity of going to a career and technical school gives students options. We just heard a story in our meeting about a student who is in our dental program and she wants to become an attorney and wants to pay for college by being a dental assistant,” he said.
“She is doing volunteer hours at ‘A Woman’s Place’ over the summer because that’s the type of advocacy work she wants to get into when she becomes an attorney. So for people like her, MBIT is not a limiting option, it’s an opportunity where students can open the doors to many more possibilities.”
Covelle went on to detail the specifics of the programs MBIT offers.
“This is a career tech center that has 21 career tech programs, and that’s not 21 career tech programs for 21 jobs, that’s 21 career tech programs for 21,000 different jobs that are out there, some of which haven’t even been invented yet.”
For many, having more trade skills would be a game changer.
“I don’t know a single adult who doesn’t wish they had more technical ability at some point in their lives, whether the check engine light comes on or there’s an electrical issue in their home,” he said. “There are so many scenarios.”
“I do think there’s a renaissance right now for career and technical education though, largely due to the modernization and technological advances of the fields we are talking about. Fixing a car 20 years ago is nothing like fixing a car today, and so we’re seeing technical advancements in those programs.”
He added, “People are recognizing that these are not low-paying or low-wage opportunities, they are high-wage and high-opportunity positions. And so I see the perception of career and technical education evolving from (what) it was to a more advanced technological phase that we’re in.”
The Herald also spoke with UBCTS Executive Director Michael Herrera, who detailed the programs his school offers as well as the importance of career and technical education. UBCTS serves the Pennridge, Quakertown and Palisades school districts via 20-plus programs.
“Upper Bucks County Technical School is addressing the skilled workforce gap by supporting a workforce development program that benefits everyone involved,” he said. “Our goal at UBCTS is to introduce diverse career pathways, build students’ skills and confidence, and provide cooperative opportunities.”
“Students explore trade-specific job pathways and make a direct connection between the skills they learn in the classroom and the workplace. Employers can mentor young employees, which leads to long-term employment. And it raises the probability that talent stays in Bucks County.”
“UBCTS provides career training to students grades 9-12 in 21 career paths. During the 2022-23 school year, 119 students participated in UBCTS cooperative education programs at 91 employer partners, earning $589,768. Over 50 students were placed upon graduation.”
Herrera also outlined UBCTS’s record enrollment which includes, 915 students this year. This is a nearly 200-student increase dating back just two years when 720 students attended the institution. All students who attend UBCTS also leave with at least one industry certificate.
“Our students earn industry-recognized certifications and college credits through agreements with area colleges and learn their technical skills on the same equipment used in the industry. We work closely with our sending districts to ensure students receive the coursework to prepare them for college or careers.”
He continued, “High-quality CTE programs, like those at UBCTS, address the skills gap in transitioning from school to work, leading to national competency certifications, higher degree attainment, and higher lifetime earnings. CTE graduates enter the workforce in high demand into high-skill occupations.”
“Our graduates have earned advanced degrees, owned successful businesses, and have continued their relationship with our school to ensure we continue to offer quality education.”
“Trading Up,” the Herald’s three-week series on the popularity of vocational and technical training in Bucks County, was funded by a Foundation Fellows Grant from the PA NewsMedia Association.