About 100 people gathered in the Oak Room at Ogeechee Technical College over breakfast Wednesday to show support beyond the schoolhouse doors for a new Bulloch County Workforce Development Plan.
The prekindergarten through 12th-grade Bulloch County Schools district has rechristened its former Career, Technical and Agricultural Education, or CTAE, Steering Committee as simply the Workforce Steering Committee. Three subcommittees – a Collaborative Team, an Education Team and a Community Team – have been formed.
With members from business and industry, higher education, local governments, economic development organizations and the military, these are expected to promote the plan and expand on efforts to show middle school students local career possibilities and provide high school students employability training, work-based learning placements and college dual-enrollment possibilities.
"One of the major things that we want to drive home today is that this plan cannot be accomplished just with Bulloch County Schools," said Julie Chance, the school system's executive director of program improvement. "We must have the support of this community, of you in this room and others around Bulloch County and the region to make this happen."
She and Economic Development Programs Manager Rachel Barnwell of the Development Authority of Bulloch County and Ogeechee Tech's Director of Business and Industry Training Kathleen Kosmoski presented an overview of the plan and its goals. They had also led in the plan's development within the previous CTAE Steering Committee.
The 3 pillars
The plan has a adopted as its "three pillar foundation" a stated aim of the Georgia Department of Education to have all students ready to enroll at a college or university, enlist in the military or find successful employment when they graduate from high school. Georgia Southern University President Kyle Marrero has also used this "enrolled, enlisted or employed" slogan in promoting a kindergarten through college education collaborative in the university's larger service region.
"What we want especially for our students is that when they graduate they won't be pigeonholed into one piece of that," Chance said. "We want them to have a choice."
So, if the student's chosen path leads directly into a job after high school, it should "a job with great pay and benefits" she said.
The Workforce Steering Committee aims to have the schools and postsecondary institutions build a workforce that meets the needs of local and regional industries and businesses which will in turn provide "sustainable employment" to Bulloch County citizens, Barnwell said.
Ogeechee Technical College's welding and Manufacturing Engineering Technology Assistant, or META, certificate programs were mentioned as examples of direct pathways to relatively well paid jobs for some high school students.
The college also has diploma and associate degree programs in manufacturing engineering, but META 1 and META 2 are shorter-term certificate programs for which specific industry partners, such as Great Dane Trailers and Koyo Bearings, guarantee to provide a job interview upon completion and for which OTC publishes the starting wages on its website. These programs are open to 11th and 12th graders who are at least 16 years old.
"Those are the certificates that we have designed specifically as a pathway for our high school partners... ," said OTC Vice President for Academic and Student Affairs Ryan Foley. "It's basic industrial maintenance kind of things, but they'll start them out at a higher salary than just somebody off the street. Then they have a pathway that they can come to OTC and finish the diploma or the associate degree."
The college is also working on an agreement with Georgia Southern for students to continue on to a bachelor's degree in manufacturing engineering.
Statesboro High School, Southeast Bulloch High School and Portal Middle High School all have work-based learning programs in which students in 11th and 12th grades work at part-time jobs with off-campus employers. Students are graded on upholding their work responsibilities and learning on the job.
But some CTAE coursework pathways offered by the schools have no available workplace sites.
"Currently there are 137 work-based learning sites, but there isn't a site for every pathway. ..." Kosmoski said. "Statesboro High School recently added a sports medicine pathway, but there is no work-based learning site aligned with that pathway, and the same can be said for several others, such as accounting."
Of the approximately 1,500 students enrolled in the 11th and 12th grades in the Bulloch County Schools, only 213 are now participating in work-based learning, she reported.
So the steering committee is seeking additional work-based learning sites and promoting increased student participation. Support is also sought for increasing the educational experiences available through "career technical student organizations," such as the Family, Career and Community Leaders of America, or FCCLA, the Future Business Leaders of America, or FBLA, SkillsUSA and the National FFA Organization.
Student members of some of these clubs opened the doors to the Jack Hill Building and greeted participants on their way to breakfast in the Oak Room.
Past and future
Development Authority of Bulloch County CEO Benjy Thompson and Bulloch County Schools Superintendent Charles Wilson traced the development of the new Workforce Development Plan back to conversations they had more than a decade ago and also a 2014 report on Bulloch County by the Pathways to Prosperity Network, based at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
In 2015, Barnwell organized the DABC's first Manufacturing Day event, working with Ogeechee Tech, the school system and local industries. Each year on Manufacturing Day, eighth-graders visit industries and the college to learn about potential future careers. This led to the creation of a whole series of different "discovery events" throughout the year, but also to the realization that several organizations were doing separate work on workforce development that could be better coordinated, Thompson said.
Wilson concluded the meeting by asking participants to fill out a survey, which asked how they or their organizations could help in the effort.
"I think this gives us an opportunity to show our common purpose, to help our children find their way to be enrolled, enlisted or employed," Wilson said.
The plan, he said, also requires accountability. It calls for regular evaluations of its own effectiveness and an annual retreat to review progress.