In today’s ever-changing work environment, it is becoming more and more important that students obtain the skill set needed to become viable employees. It is equally vital that current workers have the resources they need to fine-tune their already established talents or retrain for a new career.
The earlier individuals have access to hands-on training and education the better. That’s why Burke County Public Schools (BCPS); Western Piedmont Community College (WPCC); Burke Development Inc.; the NC Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services, Western Regional Facility; and the Burke County Chamber of Commerce are working together to promote workforce readiness for 21st century employers.
“Technology is evolving at an amazing pace. To be able to react to these changes, it is important to have an adaptable workforce than can shift and react to new opportunities,” says Alan Wood, president and CEO of Burke Development, Inc. “This is the only way companies can remain competitive in a global marketplace.”
To meet these needs, students have a bevy of resources where they can gain insight into the latest advancements surrounding their desired career pathways.
One way to do this is through dual enrollment classes, referred to as the Career & College Promise Program and offered to BCPS juniors and seniors with at least a 3.0 GPA through WPCC. Bright pupils can get a leg up on college-level courses and even save money in the process, since tuition is waived. Subjects include mechatronics, early care and education, general accounting, simulation and game development, as well as many others.
Upon graduation from high school, scholars can then enroll at WPCC to earn an associate degree or certificate in a variety of chosen fields. Those wishing to pursue four-year or even more advanced degrees in areas such as engineering science or technology are able to transfer to North Carolina universities.
On top of that, these organizations are creating a one-of-a-kind apprenticeship program where individuals can get on-the-job training.
“[The apprentice program] is a collaboration between BCPS, WPCC and manufacturers in Burke County,” says Lee Kiser, dean of workforce and professional development at WPCC. “It is designed to provide companies with high-quality, entry-level technicians in the areas of industrial systems, automation, machining and other aspects of advanced manufacturing. Apprentices are competitively selected from a group of pre-screened high school students who complete a summer internship.”
Participants come away with an associate degree from WPCC and credentials that are recognized across the country. While involved in the program, individuals are typically paid a full-time wage based on skill level, and the company covers costs for tuition and books.
Responding quickly to the needs of in a climate of rapid change takes a new kind of partnership. That’s why the public schools, community college, manufacturers, economic development, vocational rehabilitation, the state, the county chamber of commerce and others came together to form Burke Partners in Education. The group of about 25 community leaders meets monthly to share ideas, hear about local needs in manufacturing, discuss issues, and develop opportunities.
“We feel like everything we do is workforce and career training,” say’s Atticus Simpson, vice president for student development for WPCC.”No matter where you go, your goal is to get a rewarding job or career, whether technical or professional. Because the community works together here, we have solutions that will lead you in the right direction.”
To meet the individual needs of students, schools use a variety of teaching methods.
For example, Morganton Day School, a K-8 school, follows a philosophy of inquiry-based education. K-4 focuses on the development of the whole child, preparing students to become active, caring, lifelong learners. Middle school students experience STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math). Though eighth grade, students are further enriched in mathematics, a robust language program, art, music and physical education, and community involvement. “We are dedicated to nurturing creative, internationally-minded citizens,”
says Advancement Director Ellen Settlemyer.
That idea appealed to Dr. and Mrs. Steve Isserman who live in Hickory, NC, but have a first, third and fifth grader at the school. “What appealed to us was not just the school’s approach to academics but also its commitment to producing graduates who are well-rounded, engaging and good citizens. Their focus is really on the whole child,” says Dr. Isserman.
In addition to BCPS and WPCC, Burke County’s education options include independent private schools, faith-based schools, a charter school, home schooling, Morganton is also home to the North Carolina School for the Deaf. For those pursuing four-year degrees, Appalachian State University, Lees McRae College, Gardner-Webb University, Western Carolina University and Montreat College offer degree programs at their Morganton campuses.”