Technical Employment Training’s Bill Clarke on Tailoring Training to Students

While most skilled trade schools follow a familiar model of education over two years on the September to May schedule, Technical Employment Training (TET) in San Bernardino, CA has charted its own course. The school trains students to achieve certifications in high-demand skill areas over six months. We spoke with Bill Clarke of TET to hear about how he does it.

Bill Clarke and TET Staff

The TET course first provides general knowledge while evaluating what specific skill area a student is best suited for.

“We provide two certifications. One is in quality control and math, so they understand some basic concepts of what they’re doing,” Clark explains. “The second credential is in a specific skill set. We look at their learning style, and say, ‘you know what, this individual would be good as a kinesthetic learner, good with their hands.’ Therefore, they might be able to run a conventional lathe, and they test in that skill set to give them certification. Then we put them to work in that skill set.”

A core part of the TET course is a 120-hour internship at a local shop. Often this can lead directly into a first job.

“The goal now is to have them finish their first certification two months into the program before they go into their 120 hour internship,” says Clark. “If it’s a good fit, we will train the student in the skill set that best fits with the company.”

Guiding students to a specific skill set that works with the student’s natural strengths is a key element of what TET does. Therefore, early student evaluation is critical:

“We give students curriculum that’s all interactive driven. We can actually look at what they’re performing better in compare to other units of instruction that they’re getting. Then we start putting the strength into that area and making the recommendation that they get their national credential in the skill set they best perform in.”

Clark believes this is a key ingredient to what sets TET apart:

“This is something that’s not being done at any normal trade school. And we don’t take a lot of people, I probably train roughly 120 in a year in my manufacturing and probably 60 in my construction skill set. My instructional cost is about $8000 a person, that’s what I get to train a person in 630 hours with two federal certifications.”

TET’s program is partly a response to the realities of education and the economy. While a Bachelor’s degree may have once guaranteed employment, that is no longer the case.

“Without skills, we become non-productive in society,” Clark observes. “We have PhDs that are working at Starbucks. When school loans come due, I don’t have to tell you what that’s all about.”

The skilled trades gap is only widening as the baby boom generation hits retirement age.

“Every industry I deal with has a lot of personnel between 50 and 70, and they’re all leaving.”

As a result, many companies are looking to other countries for their workers. To this issue, Clark has a long-term solution: start them early.

“We have found that if you don’t get a person engaged with technology at an early age, parents don’t really encourage that going forward. We’re starting early. We’re starting in second grade. Schools have been very very receptive.”

Solving the skilled trades gap will take a variety of approaches. TET’s accelerated model gets workers educated and into jobs at an efficient clip. With a huge demand for skilled workers, this is an excellent time for outside-the-box thinking on educating tomorrow’s skilled workers.