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Nassau BOCES plans to enhance two-year plumbing course

Educators hope to pull more high school students into the trades program, noting that the market for skilled laborers is flush with opportunity.

On Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018, Nassau BOCES officials reported that they had seen a drop of more than 30 percent in the number of students enrolling in its plumbing courses. (Credit: Corey Sipkin)

As a way to drive enrollment and boost the ranks of future professional plumbers, educators at Nassau BOCES are enhancing the curriculum for high school juniors and seniors and increasing awareness of it.

The two-year program, which focuses mostly on plumbing, will add other elements for the next school year, including heating, ventilation and air conditioning, with the hope of drawing more interest from high school students, said Peter Dalton, principal of Nassau BOCES’ Barry Career & Technical Education Center in Westbury.

The regional school district, which serves students in 48 of the county’s 56 local systems, also is publicizing the program in different ways, including on social media.

“We are looking at the curriculum and what value can we add to the program,” Dalton said. “There is more to it than the traditional plumbing piece.”

At Nassau BOCES, enrollment in the two-year plumbing course has dropped by more than 30 percent since the 2014-15 school year despite a local and national shortage of workers in the field.

“There’s plenty of work out there,” said Fred Castro, who teaches and trains future plumbers at the center, known as Barry Tech. “There is such a need for young people to enter the trade.”

Islandwide, the number of students educated in the trades at Long Island’s three Board of Cooperative Educational Services districts shows an overall increase in those undertaking skilled labor training, including welding and carpentry, according to a Newsday analysis of enrollment data. The figures are from the 2014-15 school year to the current school year.

But the number of students taking only plumbing remains flat across the Island, with 49 students enrolled this school year — the same as in 2014-15.

To see the number of students enrolled in all the skilled trades, broken down by local systems within the Nassau BOCES, Eastern Suffolk BOCES and Western Suffolk BOCES districts, a database is available on newsday.com/data.

The three BOCES districts are the largest providers of career and technical education on the Island. Local districts pay BOCES for their students’ enrollment, and districts receive reimbursement for a portion of the cost. Students usually take courses at BOCES centers two or three days a week, and are brought by bus to the regional systems’ facilities.

Enrollment for the 2018-19 school year is underway and will continue through the summer. The most popular program is for students who are training for work in the health-care industry, educators at all three BOCES districts have said.

A handful of local school districts have their own CTE training programs, with some of those increasing their offerings in recent years.

For example, the William Floyd School District, based in Mastic Beach, undertook expansion of its career and technical training, both to provide more options within the district and to trim outside tuition payments. That program does not offer plumbing courses, although expansion in construction trades is being considered, a district spokesman said.

This year, 19 students are enrolled in the Nassau BOCES plumbing course, which provides hands-on experience with toilets, sinks, pipes and boilers, positioned on a wooden elevated platform in the classroom.

Prospective students have been brought on tours of the center to give them a “taste of tech,” Dalton said.

Student Anthony Calo, 17, a senior at Glen Cove High School, is in his second year in the program. He can put together a boiler, as well as fix sinks and toilets.

“I decided to try it and I ended up liking it,” he said.

Leah Arnold, director of career technical and adult education at Eastern Suffolk BOCES, said the district’s officials had noticed light enrollment in the plumbing program in the 2012-13 school year, but boosted outreach and hired a new instructor to increase interest. They now enroll 30 students in the program, up from 21 in 2014-15.

“What I think drives student interest, particularly in the trades, is parental influence — and if your family are tradesmen, you are more likely to want to have your kids have this kind of education,” she said.

Long Island’s plumbing industry averages 270 job openings a year, according to Shital Patel, a labor-market analyst in the state Labor Department’s Hicksville office. About 80 of those are vacancies, mostly due to retirements.

The field also is one of the fastest-growing industries on the Island, expected to swell 32 percent between 2014 and 2024, she said.

Michael Tumminello, an adult career & technical education plumbing teacher at Nassau BOCES who also works in the industry, noted that a career in plumbing can be lucrative, with experienced plumbers earning $100,000 or more annually after about five to six years in the field.

“As long as there is indoor plumbing, you are going to need someone to fix it,” Tumminello said.

Castro said he already has incorporated elements of wiring and other skills into the Nassau BOCES plumbing curriculum. But students have to be motivated, with the desire to learn a trade, he said.

“The problem is, in the academic setting everyone has programmed their child to go to college,” Castro said. “And what is the child left with after four years of college? A debt that can rival a mortgage and no guarantees of a job.”

In the trades, “there is such a need, such a need, and it will never be filled,” he said.

About 70 percent of those enrolled go on to college after graduation from high school, with some incorporating their trade skills, Dalton said. Others enter the workforce.

Those who complete the Nassau BOCES program are qualified for an entry-level job, Dalton said.

Senior Frank Crisafi, 17, of Franklin Square, is in his second year at Barry Tech and is enrolled in a work-study program where he earns high school credit while working in the field.

“I really got lucky coming here. I knew I liked to work with my hands; I liked to figure things out,” Crisafi said. “I looked at all the programs and going into plumbing, I was very fortunate.”

With Michael R. Ebert

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