Local school systems focus on development of American’s next generation workforce

Published 3:00 am Saturday, September 3, 2016


Teachers often say that school is meant to prepare students for college, but what are local schools and organizations doing to prepare students for the workforce?

A lot, actually.

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The Pike County School system, for example, has eight different academies that students can participate in to learn specified workforce skills including applied sciences, business and finance, performing arts, health sciences and information systems, agriscience and even aviation.

Dr. Mark Bazzell, superintendent of Pike County Schools, said the schools teach soft job skills to all students in addition to the more specified academies.

“Kids must have the soft skills they need for business and industry,” Bazzell said. “We teach them things like getting to work on time and being able to communicate.”

Bazzell said 110 students are involved in dual enrollment, in which students attend select college classes for both high school and college credit. Of those 110 students, 90 of them will graduate with associate’s degrees when they graduate from high school.

“In many cases, kids need a basic knowledge base in order to do their work,” Bazzell said. “A lot of that is covered in the academic areas, but the programs go into more specified areas. For example, some of our students get degrees in applied accounting, which is a very specific set of skills that many employers would find useful.”

The Troy-Pike Center for Technology (TPCT) is an integral part in the workforce development programs for both the Pike County Schools and Troy City Schools. Students at the TPCT come from Pike County High School, Goshen High School and Charles Henderson High School.

Students can take one elective at the center each semester. Courses include welding, pre-engineering, database design, education, health and science education, aviation maintenance, cooperative education, agriscience, carpentry and global studies.

“I think the students do better with these electives because they’re more hands-on and they see how they can actually use these skills in the real world,” said Kim Sellers, pre-engineering instructor at the center. “We try to pique their interest in a career. These electives gives the students a taste of different careers while they’re in high school before they go out and spend money at a college or technical school.”

The TPCT achieved maximum enrollment this year with every class filled, which is a total of 600 students coming to the center every day.

The growth of participation in the electives by students in the Troy City Schools system is one factor that led to the center being able to reach maximum enrollment.

“This is the first time pretty much in history that we’ve filled up all of our student slots at the career tech center,” said Dr. Lee Hicks, superintendent of Troy City Schools.

“That’s a big accomplishment. It shows us that we’re moving in the right direction.”

One example of a program exclusive to Troy City Schools that has been particularly successful in career preparation is the culinary arts program.

“Our students in the culinary arts program come out ServSafe certified, which means they’re certified to work in any kind of restaurant business,” Hicks said. “That makes them very, very marketable. Our students have gotten work with Sodexo and other hotel and restaurant types of industries.”

Hicks said that the schools system is looking into adding a refrigeration and air-conditioning course and a cosmetology course in the future.

“We’re very excited about the growth in our tech courses and we’re always looking for new programs to create that make our students more career-ready,” Hicks said.

Hicks explained how the school board selects what courses to offer.

“We look at the data that the state system sends us and try to cater our tech programs to jobs offered in our area,” he said.

According to Brock Kelley, principal at Charles Henderson High School, the school has also partnered with Lurleen B. Wallace Community College and the Smart Plant in Luverne to provide a “Ready-to-work” program that will provide work-ethic training to students.

The nine-week course will teach students time-management skills, professional ethics and job acquisition skills, Kelley said.

“This is our first time able to offer it,” Kelley said. “It’s mostly offered by junior colleges, but we’re going out on a limb to offer it.”

The pilot program will begin in the spring and will offer students two nationally-recognized credentials, Kelley said.

The Pike County Economic Development Center also has a workforce development program that started last January by providing minimum wage internships to a select group of students.

The program started with 14 students, of which three were hired on permanently at their places of internship. All 14 students received high school credit for the course, as well as some money in the bank and experience in the workforce.

“We’ve secured businesses that are willing to pay minimum wage for our interns,” said Mike Hall, the director of workforce development at the PCEDC.  “We go through a rigorous process to select the students, and then I match each student’s interests with the best industry.”

The selection process for the students includes an essay, an application with references and an interview with Hall.

The program serves as a supplement to the career and technical programs offered by the school systems, Hall said.

“The schools don’t have to send anybody out to the job site,” Hall said.

“ I facilitate between the job site, the student and the school.”