As a business owner, Kevin Madden knows the challenges of finding skilled workers. As a graduate of a county vocational-technical high school, he recognizes where to find them.
“One of the most valuable portions of a vocational-technical school program is the ability to get students out into the work field and experience different careers,” said Madden, a 2004 graduate of Ocean County Vocational Technical School. “I learned the fundamentals and what to look for in professional craftsmanship. Just as importantly, OCVTS prepared my mindset for the workplace.”
Madden is an example of why February is celebrated as Career and Technical Education Month every year. He didn’t just excel in school and establish a thriving business, he hired graduates of the same welding program that helped him build foundational technical skills as well as the work-readiness skills that are critical to success.
“Everyone I know who runs their own business wants and needs to grow their workforce,” Madden said. “Every single industry right now is in need of talented, hard workers, and paths are being paved in vocational schools to get students there.”
Regardless of industry, CTE steers high school and adult students toward career fulfillment and success. Its customized programs are taught by teachers with industry experience and its workforce connections directly link learning to career goals. For employers like Madden, the combination addresses business needs by closing the skills gap.
“I was always mechanical-minded, and I liked working with my hands,” Madden said. “I knew from a young age that this was the type of work I wanted to do. I remember wanting to be an inventor or a mechanical engineer, but my CTE experience provided me with the foundation to combine my passions into a career that would fulfill them all.”
Madden went from repurposing household appliances in grade school to succeeding in the welding program at OCVTS. He continued studying machine trades through OCVTS adult education courses and also worked in the field of manufacturing heavy equipment for nuclear power plants.
Madden is a problem-solver. He was the family member everyone relied on to “fix” things, making his transition into entrepreneurship a natural fit. He has owned and operated Bayville-based Sea Machine Manufacturing since 2008. The company provides timely, reliable machine repair and light manufacturing to some of the country’s most essential industries. Sea Machine Manufacturing is uniquely positioned to help businesses by reverse-engineering degraded equipment, manufacturing new parts and repairing equipment back to maximum efficiency.
“Because I learned both welding and machine trades, Sea Machine Manufacturing has set itself apart from others who offer similar services,” Madden said. “I went from a team of just me to a team of eight, a few of them coming straight from a vocational-technical school. Because of our wide array of services, I’m able to bring extra employees out on projects and give them time to learn a new skill.”
Madden’s progression is a source of delight for his former OCVTS welding instructor, Jim Mansfield.
“Kevin has come full circle, from student to union member, to owning his own business, to hiring our students,” Mansfield said.
OCVTS is one of New Jersey’s 21 county vocational-technical school districts that takes specific steps to align education programs with regional workforce demands. Like Sea Machine Manufacturing, thousands of business partners throughout the state serve as mentors, classroom lecturers and employers. Schools also rely on professionals to serve as advisory board members to help design and update curriculum and offer advice on training and equipment needed to stay aligned with current industry standards.
“The active involvement of employers — from small, local businesses to global corporations — is the key to developing a strong workforce pipeline,” said Michael Dicken, superintendent of Gloucester County Institute of Technology and president of the New Jersey Council of County Vocational-Technical Schools. NJCCVTS is a nonprofit association, created by state law, which represents the 21 county vocational-technical school districts in New Jersey.
“The employer partnerships allow schools to offer true work experiences related to their career programs, and that can put a student in position to graduate with important industry credentials and be well positioned for further education or ready to step right into a job,” Dicken said.
The council dedicated February’s CTE Month to celebrating some of the graduates who leveraged their CTE programs into careers. Its social media feeds featured success stories all month long, which continue to be showcased on its website:
- Jordan Varcadipane’s advanced manufacturing program included an internship that led to his first post-graduation job. He gained additional skills and segued to a different employer, where he works in manufacturing and design with CAD software. (He is a 2019 graduate of Monmouth County Vocational School District.)
- Deovelent Armah is continuing her education at Atlantic Cape Community College and working at Harrah’s Resort Atlantic City. She wants to be a leader in the restaurant industry before teaching in a CTE program herself to help train the next generation of culinary standouts. (She is a 2020 graduate of Atlantic County Institute of Technology.)
- Akash Patel used his high school-level medical science skills to study cell biology and neuroscience at Rutgers University. He went on to Rowan University’s School of Osteopathic Medicine and is working in an internal medicine residency program at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital (He is a 2011 graduate of Hudson County Schools of Technology.)
The council has also used its social media feeds to celebrate the Business Partners of the Year named by each of the state’s vocational-technical schools. Collaborations like those make CTE work — literally.
“Trades are looking for skilled people and offer competitive salaries,” Madden said, “but it all comes down to getting kids into these programs who will really put the effort into them.”
Currently, more than 35,000 New Jersey students are mapping out their futures through vocational-technical high school programs. They are exploring careers as automotive technicians and architects, chefs and computer programmers, dancers and doctors, engineers and electricians, physicists and plumbers, and more — and that’s certainly something to celebrate, and not just during CTE Month.
Reach Ocean County Vocational Technical School at: ocvts.org or call 732-240 6414.
This series on education and industry is presented by the New Jersey Council of County Vocational-Technical Schools.
Read this article as it originally appeared in ROI-NJ March 9, 2022.