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 “Integration! Integration!  Integration!”  We have heard that word a lot, we have planted our integration seeds, and we are starting to see the fruits of our labor.  I thought I would give a springtime analogy since winter is finally over, I hope.  Anyway, back to my topic…I suppose if you ask what integration means you may get many different thoughts and opinions.  Seeing how I am rarely at short supply of either, I decided to share with you my thoughts on the matter.  To me Integration is coordinating the registered apprenticeship system with the workforce delivery system in a more efficient, cost-effective manner while improving services for customers.  Put simply, “integration” is the means of achieving a goal; it is not a goal unto itself.  The goal is twofold: (1) better service to workers and business; and (2) greater efficiency in our systems.  Throughout this entire process of integration, no matter which agency or organization I am working with…workforce, labor, business, community based, and faith based the one constant fact that must be remembered: Integration is merely a means of attaining better service and efficiency and that is the approach and attitude I take when integrating apprenticeship services with workforce, partners, and customers.  OK that is my two-cent worth.  Somebody else throw in a couple of pennies please…..      

In the current economy, organizations everywhere are being forced to cut budgets. Education is no exception. During budget cuts earlier in this decade, many voc-tech programs were eliminated. At that time, declining enrollment was cited as one reason. Now, as secondary schools and colleges trim their budgets, voc-tech programs should be preserved.  Last week's "Welding Wire" newsletter featured an item from News/Talk 1110 KBND, Bend, Ore., about a high school metal and welding class that likely will be cut in next year's budget. The Oregon State champs in the Skills USA Competition came from this class. Read more and let us know what you think!

Thanks, Thao, for bringing forward the issue of vocational technical education.

Technical education remains the foundation of precision manufacturing.  If we are to continue to be the world’s leader in manufacturing, technical education needs support and at many levels.

Technical education also provides entry into career ladders in which the entrant can reach the very top of the industry.  Many of the owners and leaders of companies in today’s manufacturing world received their start in a technical high school, community college, apprenticeship program or some combination of the above.

There was a recurring theme that secondary education should be a time of “academic enrichment,’ a time when technical education and training should be ignored.  That very short sightedness ignores the successes of thousands of bright young men and women being educated in hundreds of programs throughout the nation.  To the contrary, what is needed is a system that exposes our youth to options and enables them to choose career paths at the point in time that is right for them.  

So much of the nation’s industry is on the shoulders of the technical instructors who are at once responsible for recruiting students, as well as educating them.  School administrators often are forced to make decision based on revenue and expense of programs.  As one community college president told me, “I can put six classrooms where the machining lab is and at far less expense.”  She remained committed and today that program is generating well educated manufacturing professionals for the future.

I have this diagram in my mind.  It’s an inverted triangle.  At the top is the manufacturing workforce comprised of 13 million people.  At the bottom is a technical instructor, alone in a forgotten wing or basement of a school, and on whose shoulders the workforce stands.

And it’s not just education for the very young entrants.  It’s the place where adults, seeking reemployment or better careers can find that new start.

We need to surround the instructors and administrators with support from our companies and from all levels of government. We need to continue to receive financial support at the national and state levels.  We need to send a positive message to the local school boards and to assist the instructors in marketing, recruiting and with adapting programs to the latest technological advances.

How good can it be?  The top three officers of the NIMS Board all were manufacturing apprentices.

How good can it be? Join me this summer at the SkillsUSA National Championship in Kansas City, Missouri and see the fruits of quality technical education. 

Can’t get to Kansas City?  Join me in DC this Fall when the top medalists of our apprenticeship competition return from a tour of Swiss manufacturing companies and share first hand their vision of their future.

The Washington Area Women in the Trades program provides 12 weeks of pre-vocational, pre-apprenticeship training for high wage jobs in non-traditional occupations such as construction.  Check out the marketing video. 

What are you doing to market apprenticeship opportunities to women in your area?

To mark Earth Day, 2009, Secretary Solis hosted with Nancy Sutley, Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, a discussion on Women and Green Jobs. For the first time, leading women from labor, business, academia, government and the non-profit sectors from around the country shared how they are shaping our green economic strategy and how we can work together to ensure that women have access to the green economy. (DOL Photo/Shawn Moore)