New CTE center will focus on higher-paying jobs in manufacturing

Advanced manufacturing jobs are lucrative and in demand. Ben Franklin High hopes to fill that need with new CTE specializations.

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

There are nearly 16,000 advanced manufacturing jobs in Philadelphia, commanding an average annual salary of $48,236. Roughly half these jobs do not require a college degree.

But Philadelphia’s manufacturing employers are constantly scrambling to fill job vacancies, despite the city having about 412,000 residents living in poverty and an unemployment rate of 7.4 percent.

A new Center for Advanced Manufacturing will open at Benjamin Franklin High School this month in an effort to train students for these lucrative jobs.

This year, the center will offer four career and technical education (CTE) specialties. Next year, it will add four more, each with its own lab and instructor. Seven of the specializations are not available at any other school in the District.

The center will open this fall with capacity for 400 students in four areas: Electromechanical Technology, Welding Technologies, Electronics Technology, and Precision Machine Tool Technology.

Precision Machine Tool Technology teaches students how to use Computer Numerical Controlled (CNC) machines, which takes a product designed on a computer and precisely cuts it out of raw materials – essentially the opposite of a 3D printer, which builds a product. Graduates could enter the field as a CNC design specialist or work on CNC machine maintenance.

Steve Jurash, president of the Manufacturers Alliance of Philadelphia, said wages for entry-level positions in this field start at $14.50 an hour, but can reach as high as $50 an hour with seniority. With a post-secondary degree, graduates could become CNC supervisors.

Welding graduates could work for Philadelphia based companies like PTR Baler, which makes industrial trash compactors, or even the shipyard, building ships for the Navy. Jurash said welding wages start from $13.50 to $21 an hour depending on the employer, but can get as high as $35 an hour without an advanced degree. Salaries rise with years of experience and the types of welding the employee is certified for.

The most specialized field is electromechanical technology. Students learn a variety of skills necessary to work with automated manufacturing equipment. They don’t just learn about the machines themselves, but about systems that run the production line, such as electrical systems, motors, generators, hydraulics, and robotics.

This is one field for which higher education is a natural next step. To secure the best jobs, Jurash said, students are advised to get a college degree in mathematics or engineering.

“This leads to a multitude of design, production, chemical, and engineering positions,” Jurash said. “Salaries for this area are in the hundreds of thousands, and the starting salaries are in the area of $70,000 and up.”

The enrollment capacity at Ben Franklin will increase to 800 once the other four specializations are implemented: Industrial Facilities Maintenance & Operations, Computer Aided Drafting & Design, Engineering Technologies, and Renewable Energy Engineering.

High wages aren’t the only incentive to enroll in CTE programs.

“It keeps the kids engaged in school, keeps them interested in school, and makes it relevant for them,” said David Kipphut, deputy for the District’s Office of Career and Technical Education.

The District’s CTE evaluation report, released by the Office of Research and Evaluation in February, found that CTE students had a significantly higher graduation rate than non-CTE students. In the District’s 2010-11 9th-grade cohort, 84 percent of CTE students graduated in four years, compared with 62 percent of non-CTE students.

The center’s estimated total cost is $6.1 million. It was funded in part by a $2.5 million grant from the Middleton family, with the remainder coming from the District’s capital budget and federal Perkins Funds, which are dedicated to vocational education programs.

Much of the center’s price tag is associated with safety costs. The exhaust system in the welding shop alone cost about $300,000, and the basement’s sprinkler system costs another $300,000.

The curriculum also places an emphasis on safety. Kipphut said that “the first thing we do every year – even if this is your third year – is we stop and go over safety from the very beginning.”

Kipphut estimates that 200 students in 9th and 10th grade will be “cycling between these four areas as an exploratory CTE program." The center is not just for students who applied to Ben Franklin for a CTE specialization. Two hundred 11th- and 12th-grade students will be able to take CTE courses as electives.

Kipphut wanted to be clear: “This is a program for every student at Ben Franklin, not just for a few.”

The availability of funds to hire the teachers to expand from four to eight specialties will depend on the total enrollment for this year. Kipphut is working hard to get the full 400, so it can offer all eight programs to 800 students by the fall of 2016.

The center relies on its connection with local industry. The Mayor’s Task Force for Advanced Manufacturing and the Delaware Valley Industrial Resource Center served as advisers for the curriculum and standards used at Ben Franklin. The Manufacturing Alliance of Philadelphia and Philadelphia Academies Inc. helped organize occupational advisory committees.

Jurash of the Manufacturers’ Alliance said that “these committees are comprised of front-line supervisors and/or employees with practical and specific knowledge.” The committees are involved in the selection process of vendors and machinery for use in the CTE labs.

In addition to reviewing the curriculum, the committees will be “making recommendations on the kinds of workforce credentials graduates will need to have,” Jurash said. They will meet twice a year at the school and are required by the state to tour the facilities and personally check for safety and equipment issues.

“Whatever is required by industry is required for our students,” said Kipphut.

MAP runs a “permanent placement service for manufacturers in the region,” which Jurash says it will use to secure job placements for the center’s graduates.

MAP also assists with recruiting middle-school students by setting up tours of manufacturing facilities. Jurash says MAP has created a “manufacturing week” curriculum, in which “students actually design, source, and construct a finished product.” He gave the example of students “constructing a package capable of encasing a potato chip that can survive shipping through the mail.”

The center will be able to save money on the cost of maintenance by teaching the students to do it themselves. “Students are responsible for maintaining the shops. As far as the equipment, teachers work with students as much as they can,” Kipphut said.

The school also has service contracts with vendors. This arrangement helps prepare students for their field, where a significant portion of jobs are in maintenance and repair.

When students apply to Ben Franklin for CTE, they select a program they’re interested in, but are not locked into it for the rest of high school. Kipphut said students will spend a report-card period in each of the shops and decide at the end of sophomore year which program to go into.

The choice of a specific program is required by state law. The Pennsylvania Code stipulates that CTE students must spend at least 1,080 hours of instruction in one specialization.

The District’s CTE office is in the process of applying to have the center’s programs recognized as “cluster programs,” Kipphut said, “which permits us flexibility in the scheduling of students within a career pathway.” This would allow students to continue taking classes in multiple specializations throughout high school.

Kipphut said it is not uncommon for CTE students to get bachelor’s degrees, and the ability to get a more well-rounded CTE education would be an advantage. The state is recognizing this, he said, and is in the process of changing the code.

“We want to have as many options open to the students as possible,” Kipphut said.