They call it the “skills gap.” Employers with multiple job openings in the technical and engineering positions and not nearly enough qualified applicants to fill those jobs. Enter the P-Tech program. It stands for Pathways In Technology, Early College  High School. In the Syracuse City School District, the P-Tech program is in its fifth year. Dan Cummings says it’s a smashing success, not only at closing the skills gap, but in motivating more and more students to make their dreams a reality and make high school a whole new experience.

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — Terrell McLaughlin’s pathway is mechanical engineering.

For Tiana Vo, it’s electrical engineering.

She’s a sophomore.

He’s a junior.

Both are in the P-Tech program at the Institute of Technology at Syracuse Central, ITC.

McLaughlin said, “I think it’s a great thing that’s happening. A lot of kids should sign up for P-Tech.  It will really help their future for sure.”

“I picked P-Tech because it was a way to be accountable for myself and my future. And the next chapter that I’m taking. And it prepares you academically and mentally for college” Vo said.

College begins in high school for P-Tech students

McLaughlin right now is finishing his second semester at OCC.

P-Tech programs create the pathway for students to simultaneously get their high school diploma, an Associate’s Degree and priceless workplace experience in high demand industries.

“Up at OCC, we learn to use machines like the engine lathe, the vertical mill, the vertical band saw,” McLaughlin said. “It’s a really good experience. It’s great. It feels good to have options when you get out of high school. That’s one of the best feelings you have right now.”

It was a great feeling earlier this month when these 70 students from ITC and Henninger High Schools took part in this P-Tech signing ceremony at OCC, making a commitment to continue their studies in their chosen fields.

Among those making that commitment that day was ITC’s Tiana Vo.

“If I could go back to my eighth-grade self, I would tell myself that P-Tech is all about stepping outside your comfort zone,” said Vo.

And the zone she stepped into coming out of middle school?

It’s a whole new zone where she, and everyone around her, can see themselves being successful.

Vo said, “We get inspired and motivated. It’s definitely one experience I don’t think a lot of high schoolers have. To look around them and see their peers wanting to be successful in the same path that they do. And then their teachers wanting them to be successful.”

And because the Syracuse City School District works with more than 30 local companies, P-Tech students like Vo and McLaughlin are exposed early on to the workplace.

Robert Leslie is director of all career and technical education programs in city schools.

Leslie said, “The biggest advantage for students who come into the P-Tech pathways is that they are exposed to business professionals in ninth grade. We start monthly career coaching events, taking kids out of their normal element and putting them in front of business people. They’re kind of shy at first. By the end of the school year, the shyness has gone away, and they’re getting that communication piece. And listening to how these professionals became into their career fields.  So it’s that exposure piece and that visioning piece, Dan, that’s very critical for our kids that’s the biggest advantage.”

Leslie continued, “They’re starting some of their first visits in ninth grade. In 10th grade and 11th grade, they’re job shadowing. In 12th grade, they’re looking at internships. So they’ve already had a great understanding of what they like and what they don’t like, so then their college degree becomes more aligned with what their career focus is about.”

“You know I’m sitting here right now talking to you.  And I’m going to become an engineer someday!  And I don’t think that’s something a lot of students can say or have even thought of,” Vo said. “And that’s a very important part of P-Tech, is giving opportunities to the underprivileged and minorities and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

Vo told us she hopes to use the head start that P-Tech is giving her by giving back, right here in Syracuse.  After finishing her college studies in electrical engineering, she hopes make a difference here in her home city.   She was born here, her mom and dad emigrated to Central New York from Vietnam. 

For more information on the P-Tech program in the Syracuse City School District, visit