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From the Desk of Jack Healy

Worcester Gets Manufacturing Education Right

By Jack Healy, Director, Manufacturing Advancement Center, [email protected]

The continued increase in the ability of Massachusetts’s manufactures to shed lower skill jobs and do more with less is a major factor in the public’s perception of diminished production capacity and lack of job growth. As stated in a recent Federal Reserve Report, “At the same time that the US manufacturing sector is losing jobs across the nation, it is undergoing a profound transformation. High-skill manufacturing employment, an area in which the United States has a competitive edge, has led to a significant skill upgrading of the manufacturing workforce throughout the country.”

Worcester Technical High School

This change of skills levels is illustrated in the following comparison of Value Added Per Employee; we compare both national and local numbers.

Value Added Per Employee Comparison

Year 2001
Year 2004
+ 23%
United States

Valued added volumes of over $200,000 per employee, both nationally and locally, reflect a real requirement for a highly skilled workforce. Unfortunately, such capabilities are not widely available, either nationally or locally.

In a study provided by the National Association of Manufacturers’ Manufacturing Institute, 65% of the manufacturers surveyed reported moderate to severe shortages of qualified skilled production workers. This study summarized the entire situation — “this human capital performance gap threatens our native ability to compete in today’s fast moving and increasingly global economy.”

Worcester Bucks the Trend
Although this skill shortage surrounds us, we can now point to Worcester as a city that has gotten it right when it comes to addressing the skills issue with the sparkling new Worcester Technical High School that opened this month. This is the first new vocational/technical high school built in the Commonwealth in the last 25 years, and is the only one to have had $90 million dollars invested in it. The result is a technical wonder that includes 4 separate academies and 24 learning centers, serving a student body of 1,500.

In addition to the school’s tremendous facilities, there is an emphasis on real world education and for all of the students to participate in an increasingly higher level of academics in order to ensure they are prepared for continuing education. Currently, over 70% of the schools past student body have continued on to college and 96% of this past year’s seniors passed the State’s Standard MCAS exam. This was the highest percentage for an urban technical high school in the state.

The school’s academic education supports a world-class technical program that integrates the real world and the classroom. The school’s four academies  — Construction, Allied Health, Design and Engineering, and Business & Information Technology — are each organized into learning communities that connect theory with practice and allow the students to see the result of their work. Classroom subjects and discipline learning centers are tied together. For example, the Math and English Classes in the Design and Engineering Academy relate to lessons in CAD and electromechanical courses. This why the word “vocational” was dropped from the school’s title, as the school educates students in all aspects of an industry, not just in specific job skills.

Partnership with the business community is also another unique component of the Technical High School.  Each of the school’s 24 learning centers has an advisory  board  composed of business representatives who provide leadership and expertise in developing a curriculum that anticipates the leading edge of each industry. Partnerships exist between the school and local colleges, such as with WPI where the high school’s pre-engineering students work together on specific projects for local businesses.

A Resource for Local Businesses
Local businesses and local foundations contributed approximately $3 million dollars in cash donations to support investments in technology at the Technical  School. This is an investment that will provide a continual pay back as the school also offers a venue for local manufacturers to obtain advanced training for existing employees and provides an opportunity to hire student interns. This is a unique community school that offers the opportunity for industry conferences, training sessions, continuing ed, and specialized training programs, that can be held weekends, after school, and during the vacation period.  Middle school students, through collaborative programs, will attend exploration programs at the school to help them make career decisions.

In the words of MIT Professor Lester Thurow, “Brain power will create new technologies, but skilled help will be the arms and legs that allow one to employ the new product and processes that are being generated. Skilled people become the only sustainable advantage". If this is true, and we believe it is, then Worcester got it right.

Read Jack Healy’s comments on the new Technical High School at the Worcester Business Journal Experts Blog,


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