Interview with James (Jim) A. Bologa, President and Chief Executive Officer, Porter and Chester Institute and YTI Career Institute
Leadership. Webster’s New World Dictionary defines it as the ability to lead, command, direct or guide. Peter Drucker, management consultant and author, once said: “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.”
So what are the right things and how do you lead effectively? That’s what Career Education Review hopes to uncover, and much more, in its new series on leaders within the career education sector. Featured throughout the year, the articles will include executives’ ideas about what is happening in the sector, discover why they are successful, provide ideas to help other school leaders, and much more.
You recently joined the Board of Directors for the Career Education Colleges and Universities, or CECU. Why did you decide to get involved as a director?
Our sector is at a very pivotal point, and I wanted to be a part of the process as we continue to craft our message and go forward in the future. I believe we have tremendous opportunity, and I wanted to be part of the leadership team that takes CECU to the next level.
What are your thoughts about the CECU convention and what are some of your main takeaways?
I liked the new format this year. I thought a lot of the sessions were on point, very specific and very focused. I think there were some great takeaways in terms of best practices and different methods and procedures that one could put into play in schools. I really liked that some sessions before the conference were highly focused. I enjoyed the networking piece. I thought a lot of the speakers did an excellent job and some of the keynote speakers were really great. For instance, I really enjoyed listening to Alec Ross, author of “The Industries of the Future,” talk about the next waves of innovation in robotics, genetics, coding and big data and how they will affect our world.
This year, CECU offered continuing education credits through digital badges at the convention. What did you think of those?
I thought the badges were great. Our students are constantly looking to earn a certificate or a license and build on their credential base. I also thought it serves as a reference point to have a recollection of some of the events you attended in the past and some of the areas you can focus your attendance on in the future.
What do you think people should look for in the future of CECU?
I recommend people become a CECU member and participate. CECU is really taking a long, hard look at providing better programming. You saw that in the conference this year with a lot of timely, relevant and focused information sessions that covered a wide range of topics that were very useful to member schools. I know I get a lot of great ideas when I go to the CECU conference. Just interacting with different school owners and people in different levels within the schools is helpful. There is always a nugget of information or a best practice that I walk away with and then share that information with the relevant stakeholder in our schools.
Tell us a little about Porter and Chester Institute.
Porter and Chester Institute began in 1946 and is celebrating its 70th year in business in 2016. The school started as a drafting and design school that supported a wide range of manufacturers. PCI has grown to 13 campuses — four in Massachusetts, five in Connecticut and four in Pennsylvania that operate under the YTI Career Institute brand. Our student population is about 3,500, and some of our popular programs include culinary arts and pastry arts, motorcycle technician, veterinarian technician and respiratory therapist. We also have a number of students who participate in our practical nursing program in Connecticut, which has one of the highest first-time National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) pass rates in the state. In addition, we provide a number of programs in the skilled trades area that are very popular, such as our electrician, heating, ventilation, air conditioning (HVAC) technician, electronics system technician and automotive technician programs.
What makes Porter and Chester stand out from other schools?
It’s our continuous drive to be innovative. About six months ago Apple recognized us as a distinguished school, which really came down to them evaluating our educational delivery methods and design. We continue to try to focus on middle skilled job opportunities for our students and their families. PCI and YTI also try to become an integral part of the community through community outreach of our students, faculty and our staff, and to engage with our program advisory committee members. We really try to make a big impression and contribution to all the communities we serve.
How did the Apple recognition come about?
About five years ago, I received an Apple iPad as a gift. I was sitting in a curriculum meeting with some of our HVAC folks and I asked them why we weren’t using the iPad in the education process. That started a conversation and one thing led to another. Before we knew it, we were transforming the educational process from largely a paper-based process to a digital one. We began migrating to a digital curriculum, and using e-books, apps, audio and video and doing a host of different things in, out and around our classrooms and labs. Historically, we’ve excelled by pushing the boundaries and being innovative and inquiring about new technologies and how those technologies could improve and accelerate the learning process.
Why do you think your programs are successful?
As we’ve evolved as a school, we have continued to look at where the employment demand is and then we’ve designed programs around that employment demand. That certainly has contributed to our success. But I think we’ve also been successful because we work with our employers and our program advisory committee members to design industry model labs. Our students spend a good part of their time with us in those labs being exposed to equipment, tools, methods and procedures that they will see and use in the real world when they get a job. We try to mimic what’s going on in the real world for our students.
We also tend to constantly look for new technology. For example, five years ago in the automotive industry, about 30 percent of a car was electronic. Today, that percentage is closer to 75 percent. We’re using not only industry standard scan tools, but we’re also using the iPad as a scan tool to diagnose some of the codes that the onboard computers are generating when there’s a problem with an automobile. We’re doing the same thing in some of the other programs where students will be using some form of a tablet, Toughbook or small notebook in their actual work environment. We continue to try to monitor the change that’s going on around us and take that change and integrate it back into the education and the training that we provide.
What do you believe makes you a successful leader?
Early in my career, one of my mentors taught me that listening is really a lost art. I truly try to ask questions and then just listen. I can’t impress upon you how much I learn in the course of the day by asking a question and then just listening to the faculty and staff around me.
I also try to be a servant leader to our faculty and staff. There’s no job that I wouldn’t do in any of our schools. That humility provides an opportunity for employee buy-in. So when we do tackle new projects or confront new challenges, we really have a great group of committed faculty and staff who are very competitive and willing to go the extra yard.
How would you describe your management style, and why do you think it works?
My management style is such that I readily admit to everybody that I don’t have the answers to all the questions or to all the opportunities and challenges that confront us. What I try to do is provide a very open and transparent forum for our faculty and staff to share their ideas. I let them know that we can’t implement them all, but that they are going to be heard and considered, and then we need to put them into a list of priorities and figure out how to address the really great ideas. I think our faculty and staff truly appreciates the opportunity to be heard by our senior leaders; they also fully understand that not every idea will be implemented.
When you first became president and CEO, what was your biggest challenge and how did you overcome it?
The biggest challenge that we still face today is that not enough people really understand or know about the educational offerings we provide. It’s an ongoing quest for me, our senior leaders, and our faculty and staff to continue to educate people, whether it be a federal, state or a local politician, a regulator, an accreditor, an employer, a high school guidance counselor, an adult education counselor or whoever, that we offer viable solutions for many people who want to pursue a career in a skilled trade or in the transportation, health care, food or hospitality businesses. I spend a lot of time articulating, especially to high school guidance counselors, that this is a viable option for many of their students. This isn’t an educational offering as a last resort. This country needs electricians. It needs nurses. It needs HVAC technicians. It needs automotive technicians. It needs medical and dental assistants. These are the positions and jobs that run this country day in and day out.
The career education sector is facing many challenges right now such as gainful employment and a vast amount of negative media. How do schools get through it? What are you doing to combat some of those challenges?
We’re getting up early and we’re tackling these challenges every day. It’s easy to get sucked into the negative vibe that exists in the country today, especially in and around our sector. But one of the things that I pride myself in doing is being positive and always looking for the sliver of hope or the opportunity.
We’ve reached out to the local media through our public relations firm. We’ve had the local media on our campuses as early as 4 a.m. to be on their morning shows that run from 5 a.m. to 7 or 8 a.m. We’ve featured our students, our faculty and our staff in our labs. We’ve done series and segments on middle skilled jobs and middle skilled opportunities for students of all ages, from high school graduates to those displaced after 10 or 20 years on the job.
We really try to promote all the positive things that happen each and every day on our campuses, from talking about how to properly maintain your heating or cooling system to things that you can check on your automobile to make sure it’s ready for winter. We explain the reasons why the dentist might need to take a mold of a tooth or an X-ray and talk about the benefits of dental hygiene. We take a very proactive approach, and our PR firm has done a fantastic job getting us spots. Believe it or not, students are excited to show up at 4 a.m. for the chance to be on TV.
We’ve also tried to use social media as an opportunity for the students, faculty and staff to display all the good things that go on every day and to share the great stories that take place on our campuses.
The TV spot is a fantastic idea. How hard is that to do for schools that don’t have a PR firm?
We have a relatively small PR firm, so I would encourage schools to at least explore the possibility of hiring a PR firm. But if you want to handle public relations yourself, you’re going to need to be persistent. Like anything in life, you’re not going to be successful with just one phone call.
Once you get the media to your campus, people will finally start to see what you do and be impressed. But they truly won’t have a deep understanding of what goes into an electrical program, or a nursing program or dental or automotive program, until they see those programs. A picture is really worth 1,000 words. Even if you don’t engage a PR firm, call your local TV station and say it’s national dental week, come on out and look at our dental assisting program. There are a lot of activities going on throughout the year, and if you can highlight some of those things, people will start to have a better idea of what your school or schools offer.
You mentioned that one of your more popular programs is culinary arts. How will gainful employment impact culinary arts?
The length of your program is going to be vital to your success with regards to gainful employment. I think one of the challenges that schools will face, and we look at it as an opportunity, is that culinary programs that are 24 months or 48 months long are going to have difficulty under gainful employment. Given the economics of where a culinary student is going to start, schools need to take a hard look at their program and design one that gets the student entry-level skills quickly so that they’re truly a productive member of a restaurant, hotel or whoever the employer may be. Maybe a 12-month culinary program makes sense where students learn the core skills.
People need to realize that not everything you learn in school will carry you throughout your professional career. The world is very dynamic today and things are not static for long. If you start with knowing the basics, and then couple that with on-the-job training and a commitment of lifelong learning, you will continue to evolve as a professional.
What do you see as the future of higher education in 5 or 10 years? What about the future of career education?
The price tag associated with post-secondary education will continue to be an issue not only in our sector, but throughout higher education. Career colleges have had a head start providing concrete information on student investment compared to return. Other constituents in higher education will have to follow suit, and are going to have a much harder time showing that balance of cost and value.
With regards to career education, I think we’re going to continue to see the evolution of hybrid career education. We’re going to see the evolution of flipped classrooms where students will read material, come to class with questions and then address problems, versus the traditional classroom where students are being lectured and then go home and try to problem solve on their own. There’s going to be a more robust learning opportunity for students in the future, and technology is going to play a huge role in that. As we continue to take a look at jobs in the future, the technology aspect, whether it’s hardware or software, needs to be a vital part, of the education delivery process five or 10 years in the future.
Get involved with CECU and with your state association. Many leaders have a lot of great information, methods and practices to share. We have to take a look at a very collaborative process going forward where we can bring great minds and many eyeballs onto the various opportunities that will confront our sector, our students and our employers. I’m a firm believer that having more folks involved in the process generally causes the process to be more thorough, although sometimes it is a little lengthier. But ultimately you will end up with a better overall product or solution as a result of bringing in stakeholders from different perspectives.
Do you have anything else you’d like to add?
Demand that your schools continue to improve and continue to raise your standards of excellence. But accountability is paramount, too. As leaders, we need to hold ourselves accountable, but also hold the entire faculty, staff and other constituents accountable. We also need to be transparent in the solutions we provide. I firmly believe we do a tremendous amount of good each and every day. We tend to take students who are underserved in other educational pockets. We have a very diverse group of students. It’s exciting to see students from different perspectives, or different walks of life, come together to learn and to see that learning process take effect.
JAMES (JIM) A. BOLOGA is president and chief executive officer of the Porter and Chester Institute, which operates PCI and the YTI Career Institute, consisting of 13 private, post-secondary career and technical education schools in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania.
In 2016, Bologa was elected as a board member for Career Education Colleges and Universities (CECU), formerly the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities (APSCU). He is also a board member for the Association of Connecticut Career Schools (ACCS), president of the board of the Massachusetts Association of Private Career Schools (MAPCS), and chairman of the MAPCS Government Affairs Committee. He formerly served as a school commissioner and board member of PCI and YTI’s national accreditation agency, the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC).
For 10 years prior to joining PCI, Bologa worked in the transportation, consumer products, telecommunications, business services and health care industries for publicly traded and private equity sponsored companies.
He graduated from Elmira College with a bachelor’s degree in accounting and has completed graduate studies at the University of South Florida and St. Leo’s University. He started his career and spent 10 years with PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, formerly Price Waterhouse LLP, and has been a certified public accountant since 1990.
Bologa has been in the career education field for eight years.
Contact Information: James (Jim) A. Bologa // President and Chief Executive Officer // Porter and Chester Institute and YTI Career Institute // 860-529-2519 // firstname.lastname@example.org