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Engaging middle schoolers in the world of advanced manufacturing

It’s never too early to help students embark upon a successful career path. This is why Blue Ridge Community College collaborated with the Henderson County Partnership for Economic Development and Henderson County Public Schools to engage middle school students in the field of advanced manufacturing, a thriving industry in our region.

Our three-organization collaboration seeks to reach middle school students where they are, utilizing a multi-pronged approach to provide opportunities that engage and inspire. As a result, these young students learn about the growing field of advanced manufacturing through popular events and activities like career days, classroom and lab tours, presentations by local employers and college instructors, and our annual summer camp for aspiring engineers.

Middle school is a definitive age when students must soon decide which high school educational track to pursue, whether that’s the career-technical track or college-university track. It is crucial that we engage students early about the benefits of a two-year degree. In many cases, a two-year degree has a higher return on investment than a four-year degree.

Why we began this collaboration

Henderson County is recognized statewide as a leader in manufacturing, with more than 130 major manufacturers located in our community. One of the goals of our collaboration is to help establish a future pipeline of well-trained, talented individuals to fill advanced manufacturing jobs in Henderson County.

By reaching middle school students and getting them interested in careers in advanced manufacturing, we can prepare them to enter our Career and College Promise program once they reach high school. The Career and College Promise program allows them to earn their high school diploma and college credits simultaneously.

By the time these students graduate high school, they will have a certificate from Blue Ridge Community College, connections with advanced manufacturing employers, and a head start on their two-year degree, reaching full-time employment by age 19 or 20.

Local career opportunities for our young people

Students are learning that advanced manufacturing is a modern, exciting, fast-paced industry. We see a lot of the “wow factor” when showing students the training labs, equipment, and opportunities available to them in the world of advanced manufacturing. When they see the sophisticated equipment and technology, meet our instructors, tour facilities, and connect with employers, many can see themselves in this career field. 

Advanced manufacturing also offers good wages and benefits to recent graduates. For example, a 19- or 20-year-old with a two-year degree in advanced manufacturing can earn $45,000 a year, plus benefits. We are setting these students up at an early age to get the critical training they need to be successful in advanced manufacturing. By learning and developing this skillset early on, they can advance and adapt more quickly in these industries.

A team effort

Blue Ridge Community College cannot do this alone. This program has been successful so far because of our collaboration with the Henderson County Partnership for Economic Development and Henderson County Public Schools. It has taken all three of our organizations working together to get us to this point and make it successful. It’s truly a team effort.

The future of our community

Henderson County’s future is important to all of us and that is why we work to make the program successful. We want our talented, well-educated students to live and work in Henderson County for years to come. To do that, we need to train and prepare them for careers in our community’s most thriving industry. 

I believe our efforts to engage Henderson County students in advanced manufacturing will benefit our local economy by providing a highly skilled workforce to employers. As the unemployment rate decreases, we are seeing a shortage of workers. Recent high school graduates will have the opportunity to move into these open job positions, especially as our current workforce reaches retirement age.

The mission of this program is to give our young people hope for a great future with fulfilling careers and good wages. An important collateral benefit of this effort is a more robust and skilled pipeline of a qualified workforce that will benefit our entire region. Young people are our next taxpaying citizens who will strengthen our community and make Henderson County a wonderful place to live.

Chris English

Chris English, Ed.D., is the interim vice president for Economic and Workforce Development/Continuing Education at Blue Ridge Community College. Dr. English holds an associate degree from Greenville Technical College, a bachelor’s degree from Pennsylvania College of Technology, a master’s degree from New Mexico State University, and a doctorate degree from Western Carolina University.