End of school, work in progress: The county’s vocational and technical education program is an indicator of the state’s efforts between school and workforce

Dulce Garcia, a graduate of Chesterfield County Public Schools in May, spoke with Christopher Manzelli, master electrician for Davis & Green Services, at a job fair in late March at the Chesterfield Career and Technical Center on Hull Street Road. Garcia took plumbing and electrical classes at the center. ASH DANIEL

Dulce Garcia was a junior in Chesterfield County Public Schools in the 2021-22 school year when she decided to steer her education towards a trade rather than a college degree.

Becoming a beautician or hairstylist seemed like the obvious choice, initially, she said.

“Last year my first option was cosmetology, but it was too girly and I didn’t like it,” Garcia said while attending the trades and industry career fair at CCPS Career and Technical Center at the end of March.

The teenager spent two weeks exploring cosmetology at the school district’s Courthouse Road Tech Center, one of two campuses available to CCPS students.

What changed her mind, she said, was her mother’s example as a trader.

“I wanted to be like my mom, because my mom works at an insulation company,” Garcia explained. “And sometimes I help her, so I want to be like her.” The student contacted the administrators of the CCPS vocational and technical training program to change her path to engineering, except that the program was full. So she switched to the CTC’s electricity program, but was then redirected again.

“My electrical teacher last year – he was friends with my plumbing teacher – and he said to me, ‘You should apply for plumbing’, so I did.”

At the job fair held March 31 at the Hull Street Road campus of the Career and Technical Center, Garcia were dozens of Chesterfield high school students who signed up for careers at participating companies who, in turn , bought young, ready for trade and trainable. workers.

Karen Johnson, career experience consultant for CCPS, coordinated the job fair and said the event reflected a rapidly evolving school district goal: to help young people identify and pursue careers that match their their strengths and interests.

For dozens of students that day, the job fair was the culmination of this process and a prelude to the ultimate goal: an interview and a job offer.

“All of the students in those trades programs — in electrical, plumbing, HVAC, carpentry, advanced engineering, manufacturing, mechatronics and precision machining — there are about 140 today,” Johnson said. “They are going to go to all the partner employers and visit them.”

In the center’s spacious meeting rooms, local companies such as Proseal America, Woodfin, Atlantic Constructors, Dominion, and Davis & Green Services were set up in exhibit booths to give students direct access to professionals in their target industries.

In a few rooms in the event space, potential employers have been set up to offer one-on-one interviews in 15-minute slots, whether students choose to network or seriously seek employment.

“It could lead to a summer internship. It could immediately lead to a job offer,” Johnson said. “We had senior students in the electrical program who are ready for full-time employment and they could get an offer today.”

Dulce Garcia said she started with an interview at the event with Davis & Green Services, which offers plumbing, electrical, heating and air services. Later, she went to the company’s exhibit booth and spoke to Christopher Manzelli, a master electrician.

Manzelli told Garcia her options after graduating from CCPS with her basic electrical and plumbing courses, noting she could complete her certifications as an employee.

“You win by learning,” he said.

He pointed out in high school the economic leverage she gained by going straight from technical education to a career path. “You’re already ahead of your peers,” he said, “a year into a trade. …While your peers are in their first year of college, you will have a [certification] card in your pocket, drive a truck, earn money.

When the CCPS Class of 2022 graduated in late May, 57 of them were already engaged in jobs at 42 different companies.

This school-to-work route that students find at CCPS – having the option of bypassing college for faster entry into a career – is an example that Chesterfield administrators offer to others. localities in Virginia.

On hand for the job fair was Erika Temple, a workplace learning coordinator for the state and a CCPS employee in the same capacity until last year, Johnson noted.

“One of the reasons I invited her today,” she said, “was to see how Chesterfield put together the event so it could be emulated in other counties.”

Through its Technical Center, CCPS has built a solid reputation with dozens of companies throughout the region, including Proseal America, a Chesterfield-based global packaging machinery manufacturer. Ted Jones, Proseal’s training and development manager, said the technical center had sent 25 apprentices into his job.

“We have tremendous respect for what CTC accomplishes,” he said, “and how they train. [students]. There is a much higher level of maturity than the average high school student due to the environment created. It’s a working environment here.

He said CCPS students who graduate with Tech Center training consistently have a skill level and adaptability well suited to what we do. »

CCPS’s career and technical program has leaned into the concept of work-based learning to the point that its roster of 10 Career Experience Consultants covering every school in the county outnumbers teams in major locales such as Fairfax. and Loudon, according to Katie Stokes, the department coordinator. .

Stokes says a statewide consortium of workplace learning administrators considers Chesterfield a successful model of best practice and that the county’s program is a leader in Virginia.

Johnson adds, “This is a state initiative to expand work-based learning in elementary, middle and high schools. …Lower level experiences – like a job fair – could start in an elementary school, start planting those seeds, and then as you go through your high school experience, you gain knowledge deeper into what a career path might look like through clerkship, registered youth apprenticeship, clinical experience and things like that.

One of the area’s largest employers, Dominion, also keeps its antenna directed toward this ready workforce and has partnered with CCPS to help prepare students with mock interviews.

Energy company Workforce Development and Planning Coordinator Matt Kellam took to the CTC auditorium during the March event to network with students, answer questions , get to know and recruit prospects.

“One of the things that’s really important,” Kellam said, “is that we will always have labor needs and demands, and in order to create the right awareness of who we are as a business or industry, we need to make sure that we get in front of these audiences, whether they’re high school students, college students, or the military….They don’t always identify the scope of opportunity that we have.

Like Jones, Kellam credits CCPS with preparing his students to engage with employers. “I know the caliber of programs they follow,” he said, “and I know the schools and instructors do a really good job of making sure their curriculum and certificates are aligned with the industry.”

Johnson highlights the push and pull of CCPS’s relationship with local employers, who must go through a process of onboarding with the career program to prove a commitment to the future of its students.

“To be integrated means that they want to work with us in the framework of work-based learning. They want to provide our students with that kind of experience, like a job fair, job shadowing, externship, internship, registered youth apprenticeship,” Johnson said. “So they want to partner with us and they want to develop the students. We don’t want to encourage partners to come and use it as poaching like employees. It’s about developing children. So they all agreed to be our partners in this area. ¦

Ryan H. Bowman