With a shrinking workforce due to a growing retirement-age population and due to the pandemic costing Americans 22 million jobs in the past year, the demand for vocational and trades jobs is massive. Filling these vocational, trade, and professional jobs is crucial in the coming years, and employers are desperate for skilled graduates from vocational technical programs.

Filling this “talent gap” is a two-pronged approach: getting more high school students educated in state-approved Chapter 74 vocational programs and getting adult learners retrained and re-skilled through evening classes.

Despite this need, many vocational technical schools face capacity issues due to high levels of students applying to get in. As a result, many families feel discouraged from pursuing vocational technical education for their children. Additionally, some adults feel as though if they did not go to a vocational technical school, they cannot learn new skillsets, trades, or vocations.

One alum of North High School in Worcester who did not take vocational courses, John Shugrue ’17, says he wished he would have graduated with some experience in trades. “I could have come out of high school on track for something like plumbing or carpentry, even followed it into college, but I felt I lost out…not having any real training for a career.” 

While the Chamber works with its partners to advocate for expanding the capacity of these schools across the state, there are plenty of options available for both traditional high school students and adults of all ages in Worcester looking to get certification in a vocation or trade so they can take advantage of a flourishing job market for these industries.

There are educational options other than enrolling in a vocational technical school.

In the Worcester Public Schools (WPS) system, vocational technical education is widely offered. Worcester Technical High School (WTHS) has received national acclaim for its vocational education and offers high-quality courses in almost every vocation and trade. WTHS, like other similar schools, faces capacity issues – they simply do not have space for all the students applying each year.

To address this, WPS has started two state-supported programs: Innovation Pathways and Worcester Night Life. WPS also offers “Career Pathways” through its traditional high schools, which are similar to majoring in a degree in college, except for specific vocational studies.

There is a “three-shift” model to accommodate this programing. First, from 9am-2pm at WPS high schools, students attend their typical classes, including Career Pathways courses. From 2-5pm, students from other WPS schools in Innovation Pathways can take vocational courses at WTHS, called “dual enrollment”. Then from 5-9pm at these schools, adults can pay to take Night Life classes from a catalog of over 800 courses in vocational technical education.

Career Pathways

WPS offers supplemental vocational technical courses called Career Pathways that do not require the student to be enrolled in Innovation Pathways. These courses of study last multiple years, typically starting in 9th grade, and can be taken at Doherty Memorial High School, North High School, and South High Community School. 

There are also non-Chapter 74 vocational programs in automotive technology at Burncoat Senior High School and at South High Community School.

Doherty offers a 3-year Engineering and Technology Academy that teaches civil engineering, 3D modeling software, CNC machine usage, robotics, a senior capstone, and more. At the program’s end, students are prepared to enter the workforce or pursue a collegiate engineering degree.

North High offers a Health Science Academy which introduces students to the healthcare field. Students in this program learn how to care for patients, become familiar with anatomy and physiology and other medical practicums, and are prepared to take the Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) exam in their senior year.

North High also offers a Business Technology Program which prepares students for the office workforce by giving them certification in Microsoft Office programs and the QuickBooks accounting software, as well as training them in organizational skills and financial decision-making.

South High offers a Culinary Program, a Diesel Technology Program, and an Early Childhood Program that each begin in the student’s 9th grade year.

The Culinary Program prepares students for entering the food service workforce through learning how to prepare meals and serve customers. The Diesel Program teaches students the ins and outs of diesel engines through hands on experience. The Early Childhood Program introduces students to the intricacies of childcare for children from infancy to 5 years old.

The full list of Career Pathways vocational technical programming at WPS and its online application can be found at https://worcesterschools.org/academics/career-pathways/.

Innovation Pathways

Innovation Pathways is designed for public high school students not enrolled at WTHS looking to obtain industry-recognized credentials for a particular vocation or trade. 

The program runs from November through mid-March. Busing is provided from each WPS high school to WTHS at 1pm. Students then take courses from 2-5pm. Students also take internships, apprenticeships, and cooperatives which can be paid or unpaid and help prepare them for entering the workforce with hands-on experience. 

Applications and more information are available online at https://worcesterschools.org/academics/career-pathways/innovation-pathways-program/. The program starts in 9th or 10th grade, with preference given to 9th grade applicants.

Worcester Night Life

Worcester Night Life is educational programming in vocational technical education for adults of all ages. Instructors are professionals working within the field they are teaching, and there are over 800 available courses to register for across all industries. 

Not only does Night Life include vocational and trade education, it also includes student loan counseling, medical field certification, software training, marketing courses, fitness trainer certification, and more. These classes are available online during the pandemic. Learners pay a one-time fee that helps keep the program running and the instructors compensated for their time. More information on Night Life programming can be found at https://worcesternightlife.org/. 


David Sullivan is the Economic Development Fellow at the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce and can be reached by email here

This story was originally published in the March 2021 edition of Chamber Exchange: The Newspaper, a quarterly publication of the Chamber. All newspaper editions are archived here.