Offering many paths to a career in the Falls

James Neiss/staff photographerA student works on a project in the welding program at the Orleans-Niagara BOCES in this file photo.With a shortage of qualified workers in the trades locally, the Niagara Falls School District is looking to expand offerings locally.

Niagara Falls School District Superintendent Mark Laurrie said that one of the objectives of a public school is to produce the workers that employers need — and just now they are more in need of skilled tradespeople than college graduates. 

That’s why the district has been formulating a plan to introduce new curriculum options that will expose students to career options in the skilled trades at a much younger age. Now, students interested in learning trades like electrical, plumbing, heating and cooling or other vocations don’t get an opportunity to learn about those options until the second half of high school. 

“That is one of the absolute driving forces behind this idea,” Laurrie said.”Every child ... is not built to go to college. The public education system is still designed to produce college graduates. If you want to get into a trade, you have to wait until eleventh-grade to go to BOCES.”

He said right now, the district is working to nail down a plan to make room both in district buildings and in students’ schedules to accommodate the introduction of courses that can open students’ eyes to potential career paths that don’t require a college degree. 

Part of bringing the programming to the district would involve applying for grant funding from New York State’s P-Tech program, which would provide $3 million over six years to help the district implement vocational curricula. Laurrie also said that the district has been reaching out to local employers as well as labor unions to help with the programs. 

“Public education has to produce what employers want,” Laurrie said, adding that students need marketable skills upon graduating and that some subjects could include alternative courses that are more relevant to various trades. For example, he said math is important when you’re a construction worker, but the types of math that matter in that field differ from existing math requirements.

Laurrie said that, in speaking with students and their parents or guardians, it’s become apparent that students would like to have more options and that giving them a chance to learn a trade may actually lessen their chances of dropping out.

He said about 28 percent of students enter the job market after graduation, and those are the students the district needs to do a better job for. 

He also said another part of the program could involve bringing driver’s education back to the district so that students are able to transport themselves to and from jobs without relying on sometimes unreliable public transportation. He also advocated in favor of having a “more robust conversation about drug testing,” adding that some students land good jobs, only to fail the drug test.

But the primary goal, he said, is to get students considering options aside from college at a much earlier age. 

“Where we failed is we waited too long to open the door to this kind of work,” Laurrie said. “Even middle school is too late, it has to occur third, fourth, fifth, sixth grade.”

Though nothing is set in stone about the district’s plan to bring more vocational options to its students, Laurrie said they’ll be looking more heavily at the implementation process during the next year. 

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