Whatever a company’s workforce needs are, the Hamilton-Fulton-Montgomery (HFM) BOCES is one of three educational institutions in Fulton County that is positioned to meet those needs, even creating new programs when necessary.
Some of the county’s students start preparing to enter the workforce as early as their freshman year in high school. The HFM BOCES offers two programs, Pathways in Technology Early College High School (PTECH) and Career & Technical Education (CTE), both of which are designed to equip students with marketable skills, making them highly appealing to local employers. For example, PTECH students pursuing the Advanced Manufacturing pathway take several college math and physics courses and are trained in the basics of repairing complicated electrical equipment. “It requires quite a bit of math and science knowledge, so starting them off in 9th and 10th grade is pretty key to that,” said Matt Davis, PTECH’s principal.
These programs represent New York State’s efforts to link education with regional economic development and to provide companies with the skilled workforce that will make their businesses thrive.
Implemented in 2013, the PTECH is a six-year program that begins in 9th grade. “The goal of our program is to have students earn their associate degree and high school diploma,” Davis said.
From their freshman year, students are considered college students, and all tuition, lab fees, and books are covered by the program. Pathways in agriculture, advanced manufacturing, business, computer science, and medical/health science offer 20 different degrees that are conferred by Fulton Montgomery Community College or the State University of New York at Cobleskill.
As freshmen, students attend professional skills seminars, and by the time they are in 11th grade, they move on to job shadowing and corporate visits, with the opportunity to do an internship their senior year if they meet GPA requirements.
CTE focuses on career exploration and hands-on learning for students in 11th and 12th grades. Students spend half the day at CTE and the remainder in their local high schools. “It’s a hands-on approach to everything, with hands-on activities every single day,” said CTE principal Michael DiMezza, noting that there are opportunities for students to earn college credits while still in high school.
It’s a hands-on approach to everything.
Students can choose from 16 different pathways that run the gamut from Engineering Technology to Digital Multimedia as well as skilled trades like electrical, HVAC, and plumbing, to name a few. In some cases, students leave the program with an industry credential; for example, in environmental conservation, construction, or cosmetology.
Both PTECH and CTE rely heavily on partnerships with local industry. “We really work closely with our business partners so that we can get the best possible experience for our students and business partners at the same time,” DiMezza said.
Facilitating this collaboration is the Fulton Montgomery Regional Chamber of Commerce. With HFM BOCES, the organization formed the HFM Business Education Partnership. The chamber’s director of workforce development, Nicole Walrath, coordinates mentorships, job shadowing, internships, guest speakers, and workplace tours. “The goal is to prepare a talented workforce, and these students have had business interactions and mentoring with professionals since day one,” Walrath said
The benefit for local employers is that they have an opportunity to groom their own workforce. Crystal Geyser Alpine Spring Water’s Johnstown plant is a case in point. Amy McCray, the company’s northeast regional human resources and safety manager served as a business mentor for the PTECH program.
As part of her company’s STEM recruiting, McCray sought interns. She selected PTECH graduate Marcos Santiago for an internship in Crystal Geyser’s mechanic technician role after his senior year.
“Marcos is going for a degree in electrical engineering, which certainly would be highly compatible with our type of business,” McCray said. The company was so pleased with his work that pre-COVID, management had planned for him to intern at one of Crystal Geyser’s other facilities, either in New Hampshire or Florida, to give him a broader experience of the company’s operations. “We hope when he graduates that we will have some placement for him,” she said.
PTECH and CTE faculty are highly focused on meeting the workforce needs of local employers. “We invite in industry partners to give feedback to make sure that we’re relevant,” DiMezza said, noting that industry changes so rapidly.
Davis points out that HFM BOCES can add additional pathways to its programs if there is a demonstrated need in the area. For example, CTE added its Cybersecurity & Computer Technology pathway in response to input from local employers. Whatever the need, Davis said, HFM BOCES can partner with a community college for an instructor and create a program where students are trained to work in a particular industry.
“They do a wonderful job preparing the students to really become part of that next workforce,” McCray said.