Assembly Task Force makes workforce recommendations, including rebranding BOCES

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 31 January 2022 at 5:23 pm

‘Career Prep Centers’ suggested to change stigma at BOCES, which offers training in building trades

A new report from a State Assembly Task Force suggests many ways to bring more people in trades and other jobs that are in high demand, yet go unfilled.

Michael Norris

Assemblyman Mike Norris of Lockport was co-chairman of the Assembly Minority Task Force on Learning for Work. The group spent three years researching the issues and presenting recommendations to close the job gap for many industries.

One of the recommendations is rebranding the 37 BOCES in the state as “Career Prep Centers.” Many students, teachers, superintendents and even private industry told the Task Force that BOCES suffers from a stigma that drives some students from enrolling in the career and tech programs.

“BOCES has a reputation for being an educational environment that caters solely to academically challenged students and those with significant behavioral/discipline problems,” according to the executive summary of the report from the Task Force.  “This bias has resulted in a lack of desire to explore the options BOCES offers because students are afraid of being labelled or looked own on by their peers. It is critical this perception is changed and this stigma is eliminated.”

Rebranding BOCES with the state paying for new signs and marketing would draw more students to the program, and get more people into the trades and other high-demand careers that don’t require college degrees, the Task Force said.

“The truth of the matter is that our workforce and our educational system don’t match,” Norris said. “There’s a huge segment of our population that no one was talking about for far too long and that’s why I wanted to create this task force. The ‘middle-skills’ gap is a highly-trained workforce that we need more of, or as I call them ‘professional-skills.’ These are good jobs and in high demand.”

Norris and the Task Force said BOCES prepares many students for high-paying jobs right out of high school. Those students can enter into rewarding careers without burdensome college debt.

Norris led the Task Force along with Assemblyman Ken Blankenbush of the Adirondacks. The Task Force suggested BOCES teachers get paid more, and have a less burdensome teacher credential process to allow experienced professionals in the trades to lead classes.

The state should also make full-day BOCES an option. Right now some students need to travel up to an hour on the bus for two to three hours of instruction. There should also be an option for remote BICES classes so students spend less time on a bus.

Some other recommendations from the Task Force:

  • Implement “Learning for Work K-12 Information Initiative” to introduce age-appropriate Career Technology Education programs and their benefits to students and parents beginning in elementary school.
  • Develop career open house programs with local businesses to introduce students and parents to the benefits of BOCES, CTE programs, and the correlation to future employment opportunities in their communities.
  • Increase apprenticeship program access and awareness.
  • Increase Technology Education baccalaureate programs offered by SUNY and CUNY institutions.
  • Create more CTE teacher programs at SUNY and CUNY.
  • Automatically grant college credits to a student in their specific apprenticeship discipline.

The Task Force said immediate action is needed to get more people working the trades.

“This is creating a dangerous skills gap where the trade workers who have filled these jobs for decades are reaching retirement age with no one with the skills required to replace them joining the workforce,” the task Force stated in the executive summary of their report. (Click here to see the document.)

One of the Task Force events was Oct. 15, 2019 at Orleans/Niagara BOCES in Sunburn. Other meetings were in Central New York, North Country, Capital Region, Nassau County and Rochester.

Copies of the report have been sent to Gov. Hochul and legislative leaders. Norris said he hopes they will consider taking action on the legislative proposals in the plan, and that he will continue urging them to do so.

“I am immensely proud of the work that has gone into this, the patience and perseverance of all of the participants,” Norris said. “This plan is so much stronger, and will make our workforce and our economy so much stronger as a result. Ultimately it’s about keeping New Yorkers together, families together. The pandemic has reminded us all how important family and home really are. That’s what our plan is really all about. Enabling today’s students for rewarding, financially viable careers that will allow them to stay in the communities they love and call home for generations to come.”