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January 24, 2013

Coordinator says Vigo has done well in technical education

But equipment is expensive, says Dillion

TERRE HAUTE — Gov. Mike Pence’s emphasis on career-technical education is good news to Doug Dillion, Vigo County School Corp. director of that area of instruction.

But the key is funding, and it won’t be inexpensive, Dillion said.

The equipment needed to train students for today’s high-tech jobs is costly, often out-of-reach for school districts, especially smaller ones.

For example, one CNC (computer numerical controlled) machine can run $55,000, and only one student can use it at a time. Several would be needed in a machining lab.

“It’s a substantial investment,” Dillion said.

Vigo County has done well because the administration and School Board have made it a priority, he said and the school system also has been successful with grantwriting. A few years ago, the district invested about $2 million to purchase new technology for career-technical programs.

But many districts, including smaller ones, have difficulty making that kind of investment.

Dillion helped study the needs of school districts in a “economic growth region 7,” which consists of Clay, Parke, Putnam, Sullivan, Vermillion and Vigo counties. Various groups have been involved, and they’ve met with advanced manufacturing industries in the area.

Dillion said it would cost about $10 million over three years to provide equipment and training for school districts in the region so they are able “to turn out what industry needs” and to prepare students for related post-secondary education programs.

Dillion hopes that Pence’s emphasis on career-technical education will mean an infusion of funds so that school districts will be able to purchase those high-tech machines.  

“I’m excited, but I’ll be more excited when I see the money,” he said.

Funding cuts at the local, state and federal level also have hurt career-technical education statewide, he said. He noted that for several years, Vigo County received $105,000 in federal tech prep funds.

“The federal government did away with tech prep funding last year,” he said. Tech prep funds were used to purchase high-tech equipment for McLean High School, he noted.

Providing a significant investment in career-technical education is important, Dillion said. Indiana is not turning out enough workers to fill the needs of industry, and he has concerns “we’ll lose industry” unless that changes.

Dillion also believes there is a public perception issue. Many parents want their children to seek four-year degrees, yet there are many good-paying opportunities in industry for those who pursue a career-technical education.

In fact, many of those jobs in Indiana are going unfilled because there aren’t enough workers who have those skills.

People tend to have stereotypes about “dirty, dingy plants,” but that’s no longer the case, Dillion said. They are clean and high tech, he said.

“You’ll make a good living in a clean, safe environment,” he said.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or sue.loughlin@tribstar.com.

 

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