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Educators celebrate technical school reform act

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Surrounded by area business leaders, students, and officials from the Pennridge, Quakertown, and Palisades school districts, state Rep. Craig Staats stopped by the Upper Bucks County Technical School last week for the ceremonial signing of Act 76, which is aimed at enhancing career and technical education, job training, and workforce development.

Gov. Tom Wolf signed the bill into law late last year but organizers of the event felt it was important to call attention to the first major changes to career and technical education in 30 years. Among its many provisions, the 176-page bill ensures industry standards are integrated into career technical instructional programs; establishes a new online career resource center; provides better access to transfer policies; creates a grant program for pre-apprenticeship programs; and tools to develop stronger workforce development partnerships.

“It’s long overdue,” said Staats. “This new law is forward-looking and innovative. It takes a fresher look at how we educate our children and how to best prepare them for the future. It will enable our young people to receive the training they need to fill the highly specialized and technical jobs that in demand today and for many years to come.”

The bill, which took four years to craft, even updates some terminology related to the field by replacing references to “vocational-technical” schools to “career and technical” aimed at eliminating the long-held stigma of education in trade works.

“For as long as I can remember, our society has assumed that college was the best or only path after high school,” said Staats. “However, many have learned after spending thousands of dollars on a college education that they might have been happier or more successful if they had taken a different path.”

Chris Urich, director of human resources for Penn Engineering in Plumstead Township, knows how important it is to have a pipeline of qualified skilled workers to help his company move forward. Over the past few years, he has struggled to find people who fit that profile, said Urich.

But thanks to a growing partnership with UBCTS, Penn Engineering currently has three UBCTS grads working full-time in its manufacturing plant and two others involved in a co-op program “that have really been adding value to our program,” he said.

This past year, Penn Engineering awarded its first scholarship to a local student to attend Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology in Lancaster. The company pays 100 percent of the tuition, room and board, and tools that are required for the two-year program. The estimated value is $38,000.

“We value the skills that they get through vocation program here,” said Urich. “We feel it is an important thing to do. We appreciate Rep. Staats pushing through the legislation that helps not only students but the businesses here in Bucks County.”


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