By Pat Michel
For The Recorder
Raise the minimum wage. Did that catch your attention? One of the most controversial topics this past year has been the debate over raising the minimum wage. Those who support a hike argue the increase will result in a living wage for entry-level jobs. Those against a raise claim that jobs will be lost when companies have to choose between paying more for employees and profit margins.
The minimum wage debate is important. But, are we debating the right issue when it comes to creating jobs and a sustainable local economy?
Economic forecasts predict millions of new jobs, but more than 60 percent will require some college, an associate's degree or higher. STEM occupations (those emphasizing science, technology, engineering, and math skills) along with health care, are expected to be the fastest growing sectors.
What we should be talking about is an actual employability crisis, something we discuss frequently at the CEO Roundtable. A recent report from Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce finds that the United States will fall short by 5 million workers with post-secondary education -- at the current production rate -- by 2020.
While we debate minimum wage, we lose ground in a more significant area. We do not have enough trained employees to fill middle class jobs that currently pay $50,000 to $60,000 a year. Many companies that would prefer to stay in New York and the U.S. look elsewhere, in part because our educational system is not providing the pipeline of work-ready employees they need to do business.
It seems obvious that to rebuild a strong middle class in our area, we need to focus our efforts on job creation and expansion in those STEM-related fields, and provide well-educated and prepared workers to step into jobs that are now going unfilled.
The rub is that we are not doing enough to promote the kind of education our children and the underemployed need to obtain these STEM jobs. The education system, working under rules and regulations from the early 20th century, still largely prepares students for a world of factories and jobs that no longer exist.
Without forward-looking alternatives, the educational status quo will continue to hobble us.
One exciting alternative launched in the H-F-M BOCES region is our new Pathways Early College High School (PTECH) program. PTECH students will obtain their Regents' high school diploma at the same time they earn their associate's degree from Fulton-Montgomery Community College.
These students benefit from a dynamic curriculum that balances academic rigor with career-readiness skills and work place mentoring. They will choose from a range of STEM-related career paths and degree options in business, advanced manufacturing, health care and information technology. Local job opportunities with good pay will be available to PTECH graduates.
A frustration is that only 50 students are able to start this innovative program in the fall. The employment demands of industries in the region are in the thousands. We are starting to create the pipeline but still have a long way to go.
Please support innovative programs like PTECH, and demand that our elected representatives do the same, providing funding and legislative changes to the industrial-age regulations that make it difficult to create the workforce pipeline our students and this region need to grow a sustainable economy here.
Learn more about HFM PTECH online at www.hfmboces.org/PTECH.htm.
The CEO Roundtable is comprised of business leaders in Fulton and Montgomery counties who gather regularly to discuss local issues in the hope that by taking a leadership position these issues can be resolved in a manner that is positive to the business community and the community at large. The writer, Pat Michel, is district superintendent of Hamilton-Fulton-Montgomery BOCES and a member of the CEO Roundtable.