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ATE programs aren't only good for students and their future employers. They are a cost-effective way to keep America competitive in a rapidly changing global economy. They also offer a practical and affordable way forward for Americans for whom a 4-year college education may be slipping out of reach. By publicizing ATE success stories, ATETV hopes to help everyone from HR professionals to government policymakers understand the value of technological education.

Keeping America On Top

"ATE was created as one of the responses to congressional concern about American competitiveness," says Diane Auer Jones, former assistant secretary of education. More than 20 years later, our competitors have changed, but the need to keep up is greater than ever.

"We're competing with the rest of the world, and particularly India and China, who have put a lot of emphasis, a lot of value in technical education," says Ian Shaw, a plant manager for plastic resin manufacturer Wellman, Inc. "We really have to reinvent ourselves, recreate the way we do business to stay competitive."

ATE programs are a vital part of that reinvention. In addition to training new workers, they also help companies update the skills of current employees. "When we look at doing anything in terms of development of our people, we always partner with a technical college," says Ken Parker, plant manager for Honda logistics subsidiary South East Express.

Retraining current workers is important, but what will happen when they decide to retire? High school and college instructor and ATETV advisor Lane Warner estimates that between 50 and 60 percent of America's technical workforce is eligible to retire. "These people have been holding onto these jobs for 30 years, and we haven't been doing a very good job training the next wave to take their place," says Warner.

And Diane Auer Jones notes technological change will only add to the demand. "As we start developing new energy technologies - solar, windmills, hydrogen, whatever the next wave of new energy technologies is going to be - we're going to require people who are technical experts in those energy fields."

Some in industry think that meeting these new demands requires a complete rethinking of how we educate students. "If you look abroad, in the European schools and in the Asian schools, look at what we're competing with: These kids go to school, they already know by 12 what they want to be," says Jill Heiden, vice president of human resources for ESAB Group, Inc., which makes welding and cutting equipment.

"We need to begin to develop the technical expertise and the technical skills in a much younger child so that they have a chance to get out there and to help us create a global competitive environment."

Until then, ATE programs will be indispensable in keeping the United States competitive. "If it weren't for the technical college, we couldn't compete on a global level, because what the technical college teaches is not taught anywhere else," says Heiden.

A Way Forward for Working Americans

The recession has hit working and middle-class Americans hard. A September 2009 report from the Census Bureau found that the median income of U.S. households dropped below its 1998 level, erasing a decade of growth.

Meanwhile, the cost of a four-year college degree keeps going up. In September 2009, Business Week economist Michael Mandel calculated that, since 2000, the cost of attending a private four-year school has gone up 23 percent while the pay of college graduates has actually dropped 11 percent.

Education has always been key to ensuring that the next generation of Americans will do better than the one before. With the recession and rising costs threatening to cut millions off from a four-year college education, ATE programs make more sense than ever.

"Many people are looking at institutions of higher education and saying, 'OK, so I'm going to spend this much money to get a degree, and is there gonna be a job at the other end of this process?'" says Diane Auer Jones. "One unique feature about the ATE programs is that there's almost a guarantee that there's a job at the end of the educational continuum."

For Brian Newman, a plant manager for Honda in South Carolina, students in two-year ATE programs are just as attractive as four-year college graduates. "We feel that they're just as viable and useful as our four-year degree university students. So I think there's a big advantage for those students that seek that type of technical education, and Honda tries to put that to use."

Helping Local Businesses and Regional Economies

Just as school counselors are the link between high school students and ATE programs, HR professionals are the link between ATE students and potential employers. In order to find the best workers for their companies, HR professionals need to connect the skills required in their industries with the places where future workers can learn those skills.

ATETV helps HR professionals make that connection by showcasing the hands-on training that is the cornerstone of ATE programs, and by interviewing industry leaders about what they need in future employees.

Miriam Swiler, vice president of human resources and public relations at Irix Pharmaceuticals in South Carolina, has seen firsthand the mutually beneficial relationship among Advanced Technological Education, local businesses and the local economy as a whole.

"I think technical education is wonderful. It has just really moved our state forward," she says. "It's something for a population of students that we didn't have anything for prior to technical education in this state."

By publicizing success stories like South Carolina's, ATETV hopes to encourage conversation and innovation among local and state governments. The hope is that policymakers will see, in ATETV's video segments and its online community, how effective ATE programs are at supplying highly trained workers to local industries, and how the success of those industries improves local and regional economies.

Have an ATE success story you'd like to share? Submit a post to ATETV's blog by emailing blog@atetv.org. Please note, however, that all blog submissions are subject to the editorial review and approval of ATETV.