The Career Tech Academy is a growing department of the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center that hosts several programs including information technology (with cybersecurity), energy systems technology (formerly mechatronics), welding, automation robotics and anticipates adding HVAC next school year.
The Career Tech Academy began in 2018 with two programs — IT and mechatronics — and 28 students. Students come from Halifax, Mecklenburg and Charlotte counties to attend the technical programs in their 11th or 12th year of school.
Students who take a program in the 11th grade have the option of taking another program in the 12th grade, or taking the work-based learning class.
Work-based learning was added to CTA’s repertoire in 2019 with four students. Business partners included ProductWorks, Halifax County Public Schools and Propel GPS.
Unfortunately, about that time is when COVID-19 hit. But as always, there is a silver lining and CTA utilized that time to build the programs by developing marketing/recruiting strategies, networking, building relationships with education and business partners and developing curriculum that suits the needs of the students in a changing world.
The WBL class now has well over 130 partners and a fast-growing number of students have been successfully placed.
Lisa Mettler, the work-based learning instructor/coordinator is a District C certified coach with many other credentials in teaching and the mental health field.
“Today’s workforce not only needs excellence in technical training but also a critical need in employability skills,” she said. “Industry and manufacturing have entered a technological phase that places emphasis on the tech aspect of building a strong foundation and more importantly on skills such as innovation, creativity, team building and soft skills. We prepare our students for all of this in order to comfortably place them in local industries and businesses in internships to practice and be mentored.
“The response from our local employers has been tremendous. We wish to develop local talent to remain locally when they begin their careers.” she added.
This school year, CTA has partnered with Comfort Systems USA that has taken two welding students and given them an internship where they are learning more about the HVAC industry while practicing their welding skills.
Another partner of two years with the program for is Mecklenburg Electric company in Chase City. They have taken on an IT student for the last two school years and the students have been given a golden opportunity to learn more about the information technology systems of the power company.
A&T Customs hosted a welding student who works on building car bodies, and Marcus and Tracy Richmond of R&S Racing have a welding student to help put together race cars.
AJ’s Transportation in South Boston has also partnered with CTA by taking in both welding and mechatronic students. One current student has already been offered a full-time job at the company due to his hard work and diligence.
Mike’s TV and Radio, also in South Boston, has had CTA interns for two years and teaches them technical aspects of repair and installation that is a skill difficult to find. Mike Stevens has been in the business nearly 50 years.
Positrak, an automotive software provider in South Hill, has also hosted an intern who not only polished his IT skills but learned some customer service skills by handling troubleshooting and tech support via the telephone.
Tom Raab, South Boston’s town manager, and his assistant Dennis Barker took in an IT student last year who assisted in updating some police equipment.
Oval Machining mentored a mechatronic student who continued to work the following summer for them.
Next school year, the program anticipates placing many more students with local businesses as they meet both student and local economic needs.
The work-based learning program has been fortunate enough to have such proactive students that their success/completion rate is 100%. Not only do they get high school credit for all of their hard work, but they get college credits as well.
Southside Virginia Community College and Danville Community College both partner with CTA to offer dual enrollment classes to students in conjunction with high school credits.
CTA and WBL also provides a fostering environment with a holistic approach to education by offering certifications in financial matters, mental health, diversity and employability skills.
Going from 11th grade in hands-on labs with training to WBL program for practice in internships to high paying careers right out of high school is a roadmap leaders said they are proud to provide.
“One of the best ways to discover this gem of a program is to come see us at the Innovation Center at 820 Bruce Street,” Mettler said. “We are happy to give tours anytime. We invite businesses, students, teachers or any interested parties to come see our hands-on labs, curriculum, classrooms, meet staff and all the super cool stuff we do.”
The program provides this at no cost to parents.
“The school districts pay the tuition to attend the Career Tech Academy,” she said.
Businesses that decide to participate can also get the Work Opportunity Tax Credit from the Internal Revenue Service, which gives businesses tax credits for taking on interns.
“Local economic development, mentoring and staffing for local businesses, tax credit, tuition at no cost to parents, amazing hands-on technical training, life skills… what else can you ask for to ensure the success of your child’s career path?,” she concluded.