Photo by Beth Wade
GISD engineers program to gear students into workforce, college
Nearly 2,300 jobs in a five-county region including Williamson County were left unfilled last year because of a lack of highly skilled workers, according to information from Workforce Solutions-Rural Capital Area. More than half of those types of jobs could be filled by someone with a high school diploma or some type of postsecondary certificate.
Georgetown ISD is working with the Georgetown Economic Development Corp., or GEDCO, and the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce to fill the gap.
“I knew that there was a significant problem here as in other places in finding qualified applicants for many jobs in manufacturing simply because they had no familiarity with the equipment or the processes that they use in the manufacturing environment,” Georgetown Chamber of Commerce President Mel Pendland said.
On Sept. 25 Georgetown City Council approved a more than $200,000 grant from GEDCO to purchase equipment for two prototype labs at Georgetown and East View high schools.
Pendland said after hearing about the need for skilled labor from chamber members in manufacturing, he worked with the school district to identify its needs before approaching the city to find funding through GEDCO.
“I think this is just a wonderful opportunity as a whole to find ways to collectively answer this question that the rest of the country is struggling with,” Pendland said. “How do we make sure that our students graduate with the skills and with the experience that is required to move into these highly skilled, highly paid jobs?”
The grant money will help the district create functioning machine shops at each high school that would give students hands-on experience in manufacturing, said Phil Timmons, director of career and technical education with the district.
Equipment in the prototype labs will include manual and computerized mills, lathes and laser cutters.
“What we are trying to do is help give them some of the practical [experience],” said Dan Weyent, East View High School engineering teacher. “For the kids that go on to college, they are ahead of the game because they have been exposed to some of the concepts, [and] they know a lot of the basics, and [for] the kids that want to go right into the workforce, they have a marketable skill.”
Career and Technical Education
The district has operated an engineering program for several years using a curriculum through Project Lead the Way, a provider of engineering curricular programs for middle schools and high schools throughout the United States; however, the grant money will help expand what students are able to learn while still in high school.
“[PLTW] is bridging between the conceptual [ideas] in the core classes and the application at the other end, which is the college- and career-preparedness concept: having a student prepared to enter into a postsecondary endeavor, which we feel every student must have that’s not four-year college experience only,” Timmons said. “It could be technical college, community college, military, an internship with an electrician or a plumber—anything that leads to high-skilled, high-wage, high-demand careers.”
Between the two schools, the district has about 250 students enrolled in the engineering program, Timmons said.
The agreement with GEDCO also calls for the district to add a Certified Production Technician certification program, which would allow students to graduate from high school with a certification to immediately enter the workforce or continue on to higher education, Georgetown Economic Development Director Mark Thomas said.
“Workforce development is becoming increasingly more important for economic development for the retention and expansion of existing companies and the recruitment of new companies,” Thomas said. “Statistics have shown that 80 percent of all jobs now require technical training. GISD already has a robust technical training program that prepares students for technical careers in many fields.”
The certification is recognized by the Manufacturing Skill Standards Council, a nationwide certification organization, and is an industry standard, Timmons said.
“This is a leg up for students, and a huge leg up for our local industry,” he said, adding that the district has met with key leaders with local manufacturing companies to determine what skills are needed in the local workforce.
Industry partners with the district include Tasus Corporation, STI International, Turnco Tool and Instrument Inc. and surveying and engineering companies in Georgetown.
“The city has a vested interest in making sure that we have a qualified workforce. That’s essential for other recruitment and retention of manufacturing in the community,” Pendland said. “The manufacturers themselves are very supportive of the process, and a number of them actually serve on advisory committees with the school and provide assistance in many ways.”