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Forum on the path (and obstacles) to vocational training

Assemb. Edward Ra (R-Franklin Square) has proposed the

Assemb. Edward Ra (R-Franklin Square) has proposed the Learning for Work Act, aimed at helping high school students move more seamlessly into skilled vocations. Credit: Shelby Knowles

At a forum Wednesday night on increasing the number of skilled workers to meet the needs of Long Island industries, representatives of Suffolk and Nassau BOCES talked about the obstacles to such training -- both financial and psychological.

Hosted by members of the New York State Assembly, the forum is the sixth such meeting aimed at helping lawmakers better address the need for more skilled trades workers and the training needs of high school students.

Part of the problem, elected leaders and attendees said, was that too many parents and their children see college as the only viable option to land good-paying careers post-graduation.

“Most young people are told you have to go to college,” said Assemb. David McDonough (R-Merrick). “They get out of college, if they’re successful, of course, and they’re facing one thing: debt.”

Representatives of both counties’ BOCES systems spoke about the funding constraints that make expanding career training programs difficult. But Talia Mochi-Cliffe, a teacher of art design and visual communications at Eastern Suffolk BOCES, said one of the most pervasive hurdles is psychological.

Fighting the perception that career and technical education is for people who are incapable of getting a college degree is a constant battle, she said. “That is the stigma we are fighting.”

Early job training does not preclude college, said Robert R. Dillon, district superintendent of Nassau BOCES. “You have the option of going to college after you learn a trade.’’

In fact, such early training can enhance careers, said Lisa Mongiello, who teaches animal science at Eastern Suffolk BOCES. “Our CTE [career and technical education] students do better when they go to college,” she said.

The meeting, held on the campus of Nassau Community College, was a result of the proposed Learning for Work Act sponsored by Assemb. Edward Ra (R-Franklin Square). The bill is intended to establish a youth apprenticeship program that will give high school students the opportunity to more seamlessly find work in skilled vocations.

“These are good careers, good jobs, and we want to find opportunities for students while they’re in high school,” Ra said Wednesday. Additionally, he said, many in the trade industries say finding skilled workers has become increasingly difficult.

“We prepare people for careers that are recession-proof,” said Dillon. “If you have a skill, if you’re a plumber, you’re a carpenter, an electrician, you’re going to work, even in a down economy.”

In addition to Ra and McDonough, Long Island elected officials in attendance included Assemb. Michael Montesano (R-Glen Head), and Assemb. Michael LiPetri (R- Massapequa), along with other members of the Assembly Minority Conference from other regions in the state.

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