Filling the state’s future jobs

Focus on technical education worthwhile

By The Mercury

Education and businesses surveys alike reflect the need for greater emphasis on technical skills in an ever-changing workplace.

CBS’s “60 Minutes” earlier this month aired a segment that touched on the mismatch of workers’ skills and job openings. Its report found that in a nation with millions of unemployed individuals, 500,000 good-paying jobs, mostly in manufacturing, have gone unfilled because applicants lack the skills employers need.

Closer to home, Gov. Sam Brownback has noted that 64 percent of the future jobs in Kansas will require technical training. That helps explain why the 2012 Kansas Legislature overwhelmingly approved a technical education program. It provides tuition for Kansas high school students who enroll in Kansas technical or community college courses linked with high-demand jobs. It also provides $1,000 to Kansas school districts for each student in the district who earns an industry-recognized credential in a field targeted by the Kansas Department of Labor.

The governor isn’t just talking to technical schools and high schools. Last week he took his case to the Kansas Board of Regents, saying the state can take advantage of the federal government’s financial woes and take the initiative in developing important services, including through the Regents universities.

The growing need for individuals with technical skills needn’t diminish the importance of nor compete with the state’s major public universities. Though each has its strengths, technical education and traditional college education are increasingly interwoven for the potential benefit of every student.

We also expect the new technical education law to provide the sort of incentives that will bolster programs at the high school level and help students pursue further education at top-notch institutions such as Manhattan Area Technical College.

MATC operates under the governance of the Board of Regents and has enjoyed significant increases both in its program offerings and in its enrollment. It offers associate’s degrees in applied science or technical certificates in more than a dozen programs, including biotechnology, dental hygiene, surgical technology, and building and automotive trades. As is the case with similar schools, MATC has long since evolved from a “vo-tech” into a degree-granting institution of higher education.

And as if to underscore the governor’s campaign, MATC President Rob Edleston notes that enrollment has grown every year and is now at about 1,200 students — 600 of whom are full-time. Some of those students go on to K-State or another four-year institution, some students have attended and in some cases graduated from a four-year institution. And, of course, some students go directly into careers. Placement in jobs in their fields of study averages 95 to 100 percent, and MATC graduates in their first jobs can expect earn at least $30,000 a year — twice that in certain fields.

The reason is simple: demand. What’s more, it’s a demand that is expected to grow for years to come.

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