St. John Valley residents view the EMS and fire garage that are part of the career and technical education area of Sanford High School during a grant-funded Valley Unified trip to the campus on Feb. 8, 2019. Credit: Morgan Mitchell / BDN

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David Woodsome represents District 33 in the Maine Senate where he serves on the Legislature’s committee on Education and Cultural Affairs. He taught and coached in Maine schools for 35 years.

This Legislative session, I have submitted a bill titled: “An Act to Advance Career and Technical Education Opportunities in Maine.” It is in the form of what we in Augusta call a “concept bill,” which grants the legislative committee some leeway in researching the issue and writing the bill as they learn more about it.

From the language: “This bill proposes to create a process that allows all high school students, including freshmen and sophomores, to explore their interest in career and technical education.”

Career and Technical Education (CTE) is the modern equivalent of what we used to call “shop” decades ago. However, as the kinds of professions that do not necessarily require a college degree become more and more sophisticated, the needs of these types of work and the technical skills required have become much more complicated.

Gone are the days when a high school’s “shop” had an automobile engine block in it from which students could learn basic mechanics. Since most engines were similar enough this one sample was enough to teach the basics. Today, however, these engines are vastly different and include sophisticated electronics that vary among manufacturers. New technologies such as hybrid and fully electric vehicles have greatly increased the cost of teaching what was once simple engine repair.

It is not just automobile engines. Heavy construction equipment now includes advanced satellite-based GPS guidance systems. Drafting has moved from paper blueprints on a table to Computer Aided Design (CAD) carried out in costly computer systems.

To adapt and become more efficient, school districts teamed up to provide one CTE center that serves several different schools, spreading out the cost of equipment and training and allowing more opportunities in each CTE school.

The enormous upside to this advancement in technology is that a young person who chooses one of these professions can expect a much higher salary for their work after they become certified than in the past, and usually with far fewer years of learning and much lower education debt than their college-bound classmates.

As a framework, the bill’s initial language proposes some changes. Beginning with a student’s freshman year, hours in class will count toward the hourly requirement to enroll in career and technical education, which is currently 350 hours of class time. By allowing so-called “drop-in” students to try out different skill areas, the bill will enable the state to create a realistic picture of student interest and the programs needed to meet those interests and to develop a comprehensive program to fulfill workforce needs.

The bill will authorize a thorough inventory of classes available across the state and an analysis of the need for more satellite programs and methods for meeting the goal of expanding satellite programs in high schools. It will create a career and technical education business roundtable, where interested employers would identify their workforce needs now and, in the future, including required skill sets, ensuring that the state’s career and technical education programs fit business needs and providing partners in on-the-job training.

Another goal is to address existing barriers to expanding comprehensive CTE programs by developing a process to eliminate the half-day schedule, which creates busing costs and interrupts instruction, and instead bring teachers to CTE students. The bill will also address the relevance of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) courses in the CTE setting.

The bill will recommend changes to the CTE certification process to address the shortage of teachers by acknowledging skills demonstrated in a real-world trade or profession.

Overall, my hope is that the bill will help to create multiple pathways for students to learn and demonstrate their knowledge in the CTE setting while creating programs that address the state’s critical skilled workforce shortage.