April 14, 2013

CV TEC changing at the top

Paul Grasso, Just Sayin'

---- — I heard recently that Dr. Barry Mack, CV TEC director, is retiring in June. Along with Clinton Community College, CV TEC plays a critical role in ensuring that area employers have access to a highly trained workforce.

Both schools are key assets in attracting businesses to Clinton County and in ensuring that businesses stay and expand in the region.

Because of the important role CV TEC plays, my hope is that the search committee solicits input from both community and business leaders regarding what skill set the next director should have.

Not that anyone has asked me (or will); so I’ll just offer my input here.

While I’m sure there are arcane and bureaucratic requirements that the person serving as CV TEC director needs to have, my belief is that CV TEC doesn’t need an academician or bureaucrat as its next director.

CV TEC has plenty of each.

What CV TEC needs is a leader, someone entrepreneurial with marketing expertise who is capable of repositioning the school in the minds of parents, guidance counselors and students.

Repositioning an organization isn’t a blue-sky academic exercise, it’s hard work that requires a set of specific skills. Positioning the brand that is CV TEC is about how its customer base (students and employers) view the school. It’s more about what’s important to them, it’s less about what’s important to CV TEC.

Essentially, CV TEC is a proprietary training institution that competes with “traditional” high schools for students in the same way that other businesses compete for customers. CV TEC operates similarly to a for-profit training institution. Its budget is predicated on the number of students who enroll.

And enrollments are down.


Well, for many, there’s a stigma associated with attending CV TEC. For decades, parents, teachers, guidance counselors and the media have driven home the point that to be “successful” you need to earn a college degree. A bachelor’s degree was the ticket that allowed entry to the middle class. Over the years, attending a “vocational school” became viewed as the place where high-school students went who weren’t doing well enough academically to be accepted at a college or university.

CV TEC is a well-established brand; the problem isn’t with their identity, it’s with their image.

Today, a bachelor’s degree isn’t the ticket to the middle class that it used to be.

Today, tens of thousands of college graduates are unemployed and in many cases, deeply in debt. Worse off are the high-school students who went to college because it was “expected” of them only to drop out after one semester or one year.

Today, not everyone needs to attain a four-year degree. Most new jobs don’t require a four-year degree.

Today, CV TEC offers a student an educational experience that blends academics and career training that is far different from the home-economics and woodworking shops when I was in high school.

The training offered by CV TEC needs to be perceived as an entryway into a career that offers self-sustaining wages, especially if a graduate follows up with post-secondary training.

That’s the space into which CV TEC needs to reposition itself.

CV TEC’s new leader must create an effective strategy and develop strategic partnerships that will create a unique, relevant and differentiated position in the minds of potential customers for the career training it offers. A vibrant and committed advisory board of the region’s major employers with a meaningful mission would be a good beginning.

CV TEC then needs to market that position precisely and powerfully to parents, guidance counselors and students. The positioning message needs to communicate in a single, clear voice CV TEC’s distinct strengths and value proposition.

It matters not how CV TEC views itself, what matters is the position that CV TEC holds in the minds of its target audience — high-school students and adult learners seeking to learn a skill or upgrade an existing skill, the parents and guidance counselors who advise them and the employers who hire them.

My advice to CV TEC’s new director would be to recognize that the education world has changed, that CV TEC can’t afford to get mired in the status quo, and that CV TEC needs to evolve for the future.

Paul A. Grasso Jr. is president & CEO of The Development Corporation, 190 Banker Road, Suite 500, Plattsburgh.