Educators, local industry representatives, community leaders and a recent Vance-Granville Community College graduate shared ideas at a panel discussion organized on June 21 by the Advanced Manufacturing Skills Training Alliance (AMSTA), a partnership of VGCC, Granville County Schools, Franklin County Schools, Warren County Schools and Vance County Schools.
The event was part of “AMSTA Summer Cruisers 2017,” a multi-day program that brought teachers from the four counties together to learn more about manufacturing and the regional economy. Day three of the program was held at Franklinton High School and began with greetings from the state’s deputy superintendent of public instruction, Dr. Maria Pitre-Martin, who applauded the participants and said AMSTA is a model for the state.
Next, a discussion on “career pathways” featured panelists Ronnie Goswick, the director of business and economic development at Carolina Sunrock and a former Franklin County economic development director; Arlan Peters, manager of sustainability at Novozymes North America in Franklinton; Eric Breit, director of strategic initiatives for the Capital Area Workforce Development Board; and Thomas Boyd of Henderson, a recent VGCC Mechatronics Engineering Technology program graduate.
Barbara Boyce, representing the Triangle Regional Career Pathways Collaborative (TRCPC), served as the moderator. The collaborative consists of three workforce development boards, five community colleges (including VGCC), ten public school districts and numerous community and industry partners. The primary goal of TRCPC is to develop career pathways to align with the regional labor market and support the regional economy.
Goswick told educators that he hopes K-12 teachers will focus on so-called “soft skills,” good work habits and professionalism, which apply to any type of work. “We can train them on the job skills they will need for a particular job,” he said of new workers at his company. Similarly, Peters said that schools should produce “students who are good thinkers, who can solve a problem,” and said basic science was essential for his company. “Even in jobs that aren’t science-related, you can use your scientific training,” he noted.
Boyd was asked to talk about his pathway. He graduated from Southern Vance High School, worked for a few years, and then enrolled at VGCC, originally intending to study web design. Boyd then switched to the college’s new Mechatronics Engineering Technology degree program, primarily due to his interest in robotics. “Mechatronics is a program that combines different parts of many different fields, a little electronics engineering, mechanical engineering, a little bit of design, and overall industrial maintenance, so you’ve got a little bit of everything to get you started when you’re looking for a job,” Boyd said. “After a year in the program, I was approached about an internship opportunity for a design job at AXIS Corrugated Container, a manufacturer in Butner. I enjoyed taking the design classes, so I took the internship. After I completed the internship, they offered me a full-time job, and I’ve been working there a little over a year now.” In May, he became one of VGCC’s first three Mechatronics graduates.
Boyd said it would be beneficial for younger students to learn generally about how businesses operate, how to network and how to communicate professionally. He added that teachers should explain to students the job opportunities available for students if they earn two-year degrees, particularly in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields. “Your average high school student thinks they want to go to a four-year school and they’ll automatically get a great job right from the start, but a lot of them don’t realize that you can get a two-year degree and get a really nice-paying job,” Boyd said. “Even if they want to go to a four-year school, doing the two years at a community college first will help them out in the long run. It gives them a good start with a couple years to figure out what they really want to do, and then they can decide on furthering their education somewhere else.”
Breit, representing the workforce development field, said according to the latest research, “the quality of the current and future workforce is now the single most important factor for industry recruitment and retention, so employers want to know about not only current workers but also about the local schools.” He added that the nine Triangle-area counties, including both urban and rural areas, are considered a single labor market, “so it makes sense for workforce development boards, community colleges and public schools throughout the region to put our heads together to see how we can better collectively serve the region, our employers and our students.” Breit said that TRCPC is focused on jobs that are in demand, in the sectors of advanced manufacturing, information technology, life sciences and health care.
After the discussion, a second panel was held to discuss school choice and its impact on the public school systems. Speakers included Dave Machado, director of the Office of Charter Schools at the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, and Dr. Deanna Townsend-Smith, assistant director of that office.
Finally, attendees received updates from several guests. Jo Anne Honeycutt, director of Career & Technical Education (CTE) for the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, said that her department is emphasizing Work-Based Learning (WBL) opportunities and is working on a new high-school-to-college articulation agreement that will help students transfer their high school course credits to colleges. LaTanya Patillio, a former CTE teacher and the new teacher advisor to Gov. Roy Cooper, addressed educators and said that “AMSTA is an example of what public schools are doing right.”
Tresha Layne from the Southern Regional Education Board said that she is working with AMSTA on professional development tied to project-based learning, and praised the partnership for helping the K-12 schools collaborate with VGCC and employers to develop a skilled talent “pipeline.” Sara Lloyd, VGCC’s director of customized training, added that she fields calls from industries about their workforce development needs and helps to connect them to K-12 schools and the college concerning internship opportunities.
Attendees concluded the event by touring Franklinton High School’s Career & Technical Education wing.
For more information on AMSTA, contact Stephanie Ayers at firstname.lastname@example.org or (919) 316-0026.