The P-TECH pipeline

America isn't producing enough college graduates; P-TECH schools can help.

It's long been recognized that America isn't producing enough skilled workers in the technical fields where job growth is fastest. That's why Gov. Larry Hogan's announcement this week that two schools in Baltimore will be the first in the state to offer an innovative program that combines high school and college courses with on-the-job experience is a such a promising development. The new public-private initiatives at Carver-Vocational Technical High School and Dunbar High School will match up employers with city graduates who possess the skills they need to succeed on the job. We hope other schools in the Baltimore region will take note.

In a dynamic, global economy where change is driven by technological innovation, too many prospective workers don't have the skills to meet the requirements of the new jobs that are being created. They want to work, but even those with post-secondary education, much less those with just a high school degree, have no guarantee that they'll find a job they're qualified to perform. The mismatch in skills has led to soaring rates of unemployment among young people ages 18-29, especially in low-income minority neighborhoods in Baltimore.

This fall, Carver and Dunbar will become Maryland's first Pathways in Technology Early College High Schools, or P-TECHS, offering a course of study in which students spend six years in a combined high school and college curriculum that prepares them for fields in health and technology. At the end of that period they'll have both their high school diplomas and an associate's degree equivalent to one they would earn upon graduating from a two-year community college.

The program will also offer students intensive one-on-one mentoring from professionals in technology industries and opportunities for summer internships with companies in the field. The initiative, sponsored by IBM and the Johns Hopkins University, aims to produce graduates who are ready to work in demanding jobs as soon as they complete their studies because they already possess the knowledge, skills and work experience to succeed. It's a huge boon for students because it effectively makes community college free for young people who otherwise might not be able to afford tuition costs and eliminates much of the uncertainty over whether they can land a job after graduation given their extensive connections.

The P-TECH model is reminiscent of the system of vocational training and apprenticeships long used by German industrial manufacturers to ensure a steady supply of qualified workers. In a knowledge-based economy, most of the new jobs being creating require some sort of intensive training in the STEM fields of science, engineering, technology and mathematics. Putting students on track to acquire those skills from the time they enter high school can help close what Hopkins President Ron Daniels has called the "mismatch between our opportunities and our workforce" as well as the opportunity gap between the state's wealthiest and poorest school districts.

Governor Hogan has promised to open four more P-TECH schools in other parts of the state, where young people often find themselves facing the same lack of opportunities as low-income minority students in Baltimore. In all regions, the goal is to better meet the need for good jobs for local residents and to help solve the recruitment challenges of local businesses.

IBM co-developed the P-TECH model, parterning with the first P-TECH school in New York City in 2011, and since then a half dozen states, including New York, Connecticut and Illinois, have adopted the model. IBM will be the business partner at Carver, and Hopkins, the University of Maryland-Baltimore and Kaiser Permanente will play that role Dunbar. IBM and other partners will work with other schools around the state to support them in an advisory capacity and through internships, summer jobs and mentoring programs aimed at building a pipeline for funneling new recruits directly from the program into jobs.

Maryland's P-TECH initiative has the potential not only to fill local employers' need for technically skilled employees but also to grow the work force in a way that reflects Maryland's increasingly diverse population. The experience of other states has shown that P-TECH graduates are succeeding regardless of race, income or geography. That's practically the definition of a successful school reform effort, and it's about time it arrived in Baltimore.

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