U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer wants the state Board of Regents to approve a pair of initiatives he says will boost graduation rates and put a dent in the unemployment rate for young adults.
On a conference call with reporters from across the state on Wednesday, Schumer said the Regents board is currently considering the introduction of two new high school diplomas: one tailored for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, or STEM, and one for Career and Technical Education, or CTE. He said they would connect thousands of upstate New Yorkers with careers in burgeoning industries, like new nanotechnology jobs in the Albany and Rochester areas.
"As we work to rebound our economy, upstate New York has had a few sorely needed bright spots," Schumer, a Democrat, said. "Companies that are focused in particular areas - advanced manufacturing, nanotechnology, bioscience - are making investments here, because they know that New York is open for business and they have jobs that need to be filled immediately.
"But at the same time, the unemployment rate is too high. It's 8.9 percent. And among young adults, 18 to 24, it is 16.9 percent. So why, when we have all of these specialized tech jobs coming, why is unemployment (increasing)? Because frankly, we have a mismatch."
Schumer said the local work force isn't equipped with the right skills for the jobs being offered by companies like Global Foundries, a computer chip manufacturer in Malta, and Precision Optics, a Rochester-based optical manufacturing company.
"We're not talking about engineers or computer science Ph.Ds," he said. "We're talking about basic technical jobs that these companies need that a high school graduate with the proper training could easily fulfill."
In a letter sent to state Education Department Commissioner John King and Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch, Schumer wrote that the STEM and CTE diplomas would create more choices for the state's education system.
"You cite the need for the development of meaningful alternative graduation pathways in order to account for the diversity of options that today's students are presented with," he said. "Many of our employers in New York are looking for employees but are having difficulties finding workers with the necessary skills to work in their emerging fields."
Schumer said the diploma alternatives would lead to more career-ready high school graduates.
Schumer's office also released a county-by-county breakdown of high school graduation and dropout rates, paired with the unemployment rate for people age 20 to 24. The report used figures from the state Education Department and American Community Survey numbers from 2010 and 2011.
According to Schumer's figures, the unemployment rate among young adults is 21.4 percent in Essex County, 20.1 percent in Franklin County and 13 percent in Clinton County. The overall jobless rates in those counties, as of September, were 8.9 percent, 8.9 percent and 9.1 percent, respectively.
The high school graduation rates in Essex, Franklin and Clinton counties are 85.63 percent, 82.15 percent and 83.72 percent, respectively, and the high school dropout rates are 7.03 percent, 8.42 percent and 8.09 percent, respectively.