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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

From School to Career: The ProTech Program

Your questions about this successful career-preparation program -- answered.
By Edutopia
Edutopia Team
Credit: Edutopia

What is ProTech?

How is ProTech organized?

How is ProTech funded?

What benefits did the schools see in participating in the ProTech program?

What benefits did students see in participating in the ProTech program?

How did ProTech build a working partnership between schools and employers?

What is Protech?

ProTech is a multiyear school-to-career program that integrates classroom and work-based learning to prepare high school students for challenging careers. Now in its ninth year of operation, ProTech has developed close, effective partnerships with five Boston public high schools and several industries, primarily healthcare, financial services, and utilities and communication companies. Some of the employers involved in the program include the New England Medical Center, Fidelity Investments, and Bell Atlantic.

ProTech was created to meet a need that healthcare employers had for a better connection with Boston high schools as a source of new employees for openings in jobs that required some math and science skills -- radiological technician, physical therapy assistant, clinical lab technician -- but which do not usually require four-year or advanced degrees.

It has subsequently become clear to Boston employers that the ProTech model also helps further the diversity of the employee base in the Boston healthcare system in a way that better matches the changing demographics of the patient population, and starts the process of opening up technician ranks to a more diverse employee pool.

A high percentage of ProTech participants graduate and go on to obtain postsecondary education. Many continue their ProTech employment after completing their postsecondary education.

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How is ProTech organized?

Having a strong executive director from the outset was important. "Our executive director was hired to get us moving -- and she did," says Carola Endicott, director of Quality Resources at the New England Medical Center (NEMC) and longtime manager of NEMC's ProTech program. "She created a structure in which employers and headmasters played a key role, and she kept pulling us together."

That this governance structure tapped the highest levels of participating schools and businesses was central to ProTech's success. "The president of the New England Medical Center gave the VP for Human Resources the authority to go ahead and create a budget," recalls Endicott. "That is what allows us to place students in the departments where we feel they will have the best learning experience."

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How is Protech funded?

At its inception, a significant grant from the Department of Labor was instrumental in getting the program started. Since then, ProTech has won several more government and private grants. As the government funding stream for school-to-career programs declines, ProTech and similar programs have learned to look elsewhere for ongoing financial support.

In part because of the success of ProTech and other programs, Massachusetts has recently passed state legislation that allocates one dollar for every two dollars paid to a student who is in a program like ProTech. The funding is intended to support activities designed to connect schools and business for school-to-career programs.

Those closest to ProTech see the issue of cost in terms of choices and priorities. In general, both employers and schools report that the issue is deciding how to allocate money that would be spent anyway, on professional development in the case of schools, or on temporary employees and training in the case of businesses. "Rather than use federal funds directly to pay for resources, we use them to employ staff who can be in the school full-time, own this program, and be fully responsible for finding those resources on their own," says Mark Cafferty, ProTech's director.

"The money piece is not critical on the school side, since what we're talking about is not more teachers or equipment or classes or a new facility," says Lois Ann Porter. (ProTech's first executive director, Ms. Porter is now director of the Institute Group in Los Angeles.) "And businesses already invest in part-time and temporary workers, so there is a nice fit." What each side needs, adds Porter, is "guidance in how to make these connections, how to make it work and not be intrusive -- how to fit, for example, into a workforce development plan."

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What benefits did the schools see in participating in the ProTech program?

Reasons for getting involved with ProTech varied more from school to school, but in general ProTech met a need for ways to help students become better connected to learning, careers, and a more promising future. It was intended to not only lower dropout rates and raise test scores and basic skill levels but more importantly to make students aware of the existence of many careers in healthcare that did not require becoming a doctor or a nurse -- careers that were open to them with some postsecondary education and/or certification. The program was designed to help guide them into education and work experiences that would qualify them for these and other opportunities, by, among other things, ensuring that they gained the higher-level math and science skills required in many of these careers during high school.

Students are selected through a competitive application process, and must develop a work-based learning plan, in conjunction with employers and teachers. The plan focuses on helping students master skills necessary to succeed in any future employment.

Unpaid worksite "rotations" and a work-based curriculum are designed to give students the opportunity to explore a wide range of occupations and skill requirements in a specific industry. Participating students also benefit from paid, after-school, and summer jobs with increasing skill levels throughout the program.

Participating employers benefit by helping to develop highly skilled, diverse employees trained to succeed in targeted entry-level positions. They also gain bilingual employees who can better serve non-English-speaking customers and patients, a cost-effective way to train employees and improve retention rates, and provide new staff-development opportunities.

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What benefits did students see in participating in the ProTech program?

Reagan Francis, the student who worked as an EKG technician at the New England Medical Center, credits the ProTech program with having inspired her to plan for her future. "Programs like this in the inner city are very helpful," she says. The exposure she received to the field of medicine actually encouraged her to prepare for a different career in law. Following her graduation from Boston's Brighton High School, Reagan enrolled at Bay State College and graduated in May 1999, with an associate degree in Legal Studies. She plans to continue her legal studies at Suffolk University in Boston and to eventually apply to law school.

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How did ProTech build a working partnership between schools and employers?

ProTech places a strong emphasis on the role of the coordinator, a fulltime employee assigned to each school who focuses on student needs and divides her or his time between the school and the worksite. The coordinator is the individual who, as ProTech's Cafferty puts it, "really owns this, recruits the students, makes sure they stay in the program, even through the tough times, and makes sure there is never too much of a burden on either the employers or the teachers in this process."

The coordinator, says Lois Ann Porter, "is the person responsible for working with the teachers, with the headmaster, with the counselors, and definitely working with the students and preparing them for the workplace."

Coordinators focus on getting teachers into the workplace, placing students, working with human resource and training staff at the worksite, developing relationships with worksite supervisors, and many other things.

"Coordinators were responsible for orientation, for preparing students for interviews, for making sure they know how to get to the worksite, for checking payroll records," adds Porter. "They are, in short, the main go-between and key point of contact between the school and the employer, the glue that holds them together."

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