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, Robotics automation and plans to add HVAC next year.
The Career Tech Academy started in 2018 with two programs – computer science and mechatronics – and 28 students. Students come from Halifax, Mecklenburg and Charlotte counties to take technical programs in their 11th or 12th year of school.
Students taking one program in grade 11 have the option of taking another program in grade 12 or taking the work-based learning course.
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, it was around this time that COVID-19 hit. But as always there is a silver lining and CTA has used this time to build the programs by developing marketing/recruitment strategies, networking, building relationships with educational and business partners and developing a program that meets to the needs of students in a changing world.
The WBL class now has over 130 partners and an increasing number of students have been successfully placed.
Lisa Mettler, the Workplace Learning Instructor/Coordinator is a certified District C coach with many other teaching and mental health credentials.
“Today’s workforce not only needs excellence in technical training, but also a critical need for employability skills,” she said. “Industry and manufacturing have entered a technological phase that emphasizes the technological aspect of building a solid base and, more importantly, skills such as innovation, creativity, team building and soft skills.We prepare our students for all of these in order to place them comfortably in local industries and businesses in internships to practice and be mentored.
“The response from our local employers has been tremendous. We want to develop local talent to stay local when they start their career. she added.
This school year, CTA partnered with Comfort Systems USA who took two welding students and offered them an internship where they learn more about the HVAC industry while practicing their welding skills.
Another two-year partner with the program is Mecklenburg Electric in Chase City. They hired a computer science student for the last two school years and the students had a golden opportunity to learn more about the power company’s computer systems.
A&T Customs has taken on a welding student who works on building car bodies, and Marcus and Tracy Richmond of R&S Racing have a welding student to help assemble race cars.
AJ’s Transportation in South Boston has also partnered with CTA by hosting welding and mechatronics students. A current student has already been offered a full-time job with the company due to his hard work and diligence.
Mike’s TV and Radio, also in South Boston, has been hosting CTA interns for two years and teaching them the technical aspects of repair and installation, a hard-to-find skill. Mike Stevens has been in the business for almost 50 years.
Positrak, an automotive software provider in South Hill, also hosted an intern who not only honed his computer skills, but also learned some customer service skills by handling troubleshooting and technical support over the phone.
South Boston City Manager Tom Raab and his assistant Dennis Barker last year hosted a computer science student who helped update some police equipment.
Oval Machining mentored a mechatronics student who continued to work for them the following summer.
Next school year, the program plans to place many more students in local businesses as they meet student and local economic needs.
The work-based learning program has been blessed with such proactive students that their pass/completion rate is 100%. Not only do they get high school credit for all their hard work, but they also get college credit.
Southside Virginia Community College and Danville Community College both partner with CTA to offer dual-enrollment courses for students in conjunction with high school credits.
CTA and WBL also provide an enabling environment with a holistic approach to education by offering certifications in finance, mental health, diversity, and employability skills.
Going from 11th grade in hands-on labs with training in the WBL program for internship practice to high-paying careers right out of high school is a roadmap leaders said they’re proud to deliver.
“One of the best ways to experience 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 the staff, and all the super cool things we do.
The program offers this at no cost to parents.
“School districts pay tuition to attend Career Tech Academy,” she said.
Companies that decide to participate can also get the Internal Revenue Service Work Opportunity Tax Credit, which gives companies tax credits for hiring interns.
“Local economic development, mentoring and staffing for local businesses, tax credit, no-cost tuition for parents, amazing hands-on technical training, life skills…what more could you ask for to ensure a successful journey your child’s career? she concludes.