Written by Grace Turner for TheTimesHerald.com

Story originally published on TheTimesHerald.com on Sept. 7, 2017. To view the original story, click here.

As fewer people train for skilled trade jobs in Michigan, the state is looking for ways to fill these high-skill, high-pay positions.

“A lot of what you’re seeing in the news right now is that the workforce is in need of … technician-level jobs,” said Pat Yanik, director of Career and Technical Education at St. Clair County Regional Educational Service Agency.

The state has set aside $8 million for programs that allow high school students to work toward an associate degree while earning available industry credentials at no charge — and St. Clair County educators are looking to get involved.

“There are more jobs than there are workers,” Yanik said.

RESA and St. Clair County Community College have jumped at the opportunity and plan to roll out a new program called the St. Clair County Career and Technical Middle College this academic year. It would dip in to the state fund and combine RESA’s Technical Education Center classes and college classes at SC4.

“This combines the best of both of those things,” said Kevin Miller, RESA superintendent.

The degree and the industry credential are incentives for each other, filling the state’s skilled labor need and creating a more educated work force, Yanik said.

The program also jump-starts students’ college careers with a free associate degree. He also said the degree is especially helpful for students who are at an economic disadvantage or are first-generation college students who might need guidance through the transition into college.

“It’s a great opportunity for kids, mom and dad especially,” he said.

Juniors enrolled in RESA’s welding, metal machining, mechatronics, health occupations and information technology programs are eligible to participate. The program will kick off this year before state approval because juniors’ schedules will not be affected until next year.

Students will take high school classes and classes at TEC in their junior year. In their senior year, they will take classes at SC4 and TEC, earning industry credentials when available. In their “13th year,” or the year after their high school graduation, they would complete their associate degree at SC4.

This is different than RESA’s current TEC program because students enrolled in TEC complete only available industry credentials.

The program is awaiting state approval, but Miller is confident it will be granted.

“We are moving forward with the program as if it were approved,” he said.

RESA has to get all seven school district boards to approve the program, and then it can turn in an application to the state for funding. Miller said RESA is following all of the guidelines set forth by the state.

“We have no reason to believe it wouldn’t be approved,” he said.

Students who are juniors this year and already enrolled in TEC will be the first students who can participate in the program.

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