Vol. 16, No. 2, 2006
Technical Education: A Remedy for Poverty?
|Technical Education: A Remedy for Poverty?
Reflecting the Atlanta Fed’s emphasis on the Community Reinvestment Act, Partners often focuses on neighborhood redevelopment topics such as affordable housing and small business growth. But we have seldom addressed the potential of vocational or technical education as a remedy for poverty.
Technical education programs are designed to provide the skills necessary to carry out tasks in a specific trade. Acquiring these skills may help individuals get better-paying or more stable jobs, especially if the educational programs are aligned with committed corporate employers. Unfortunately, vo-tech programs often do not establish these links, and individuals trained in these programs may still struggle to find good jobs.
Training people properly to fill good jobs and meet an employer’s demands can be challenging. For starters, most technical programs provide general training that prepares graduates for entry into a specific trade, but only at the ground level. It also takes time and money to complete a tech program, and students may need support while they finish the curriculum. Finally, there is usually no guarantee of a better-paying job, even after the program is completed.
Several years ago, I met Bill Strickland, president and CEO of a technical education program that meets these challenges. Located in Pittsburgh, Pa., Manchester Bidwell Corporation is the parent organization to several nonprofit companies and centers designed to educate disadvantaged youth and unemployed adults. Students can choose options ranging from art and culinary instruction to training in hydroponic gardening or medical coding.
The success of this program comes in great part from the corporate partners Bill has attracted to the organization. Manchester Bidwell has collaborated with major corporations including Bayer, BASF, Steelcase, Marriott, eBay and Heinz to design programs tailored to match employee training to the needs of these corporations. Most graduates are employed by the corporate partners right away, and a few have even become Manchester Bidwell employees.
Several years ago, Bill began introducing this highly successful educational model in other parts of the country. Today, these programs based on meeting market opportunity are gaining steam. Facilities have recently opened in San Francisco, Cincinnati and Grand Rapids. Each is a customized version of the original Pittsburgh center that provides specific training through corporate partnerships at the local level. Bill is now considering expanding the Manchester model into other communities, including two markets in the Sixth Federal Reserve Bank district—Atlanta and New Orleans.
At a May 2006 meeting hosted by the Atlanta Fed in collaboration with Enterprise and the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, business and community leaders took a trip to experience one of these vocational education centers first hand. Their interest in pursuing partnerships with Manchester Bidwell Corporation was clear. A second trip scheduled for later in the summer could bring a similar center into our area.
While we realize that a technical education program like the Bidwell Training Center will not entirely cure poverty, its success in improving the lives of those fortunate enough to participate speaks for itself.
Juan C. Sanchez