Gaston County Schools creating an advanced manufacturing workforce through career academy

Gaston County Schools creating an advanced manufacturing workforce through career academy

August 25, 2022

Advanced manufacturing career opportunities abound in North Carolina and are continuing to grow with expansion and new industry announcements. These jobs require a high level of skill, pay good wages, and are often done in clean, temperature controlled environments.

Gaston County Schools and Gaston College are working together to increase the pipeline to a career in advanced manufacturing as a component of a long-term initiative between the two schools to increase Career and College Promise (CCP) and other dual enrollment opportunities for area students. The Golden LEAF funding enabled two advanced manufacturing programs at Gaston County Schools high schools: Bessemer City High School and Hunter Huss High School.

“Gaston County Schools internship program supports local manufacturing businesses and has created a Career Signing Day that can place our internship students into full time manufacturing positions upon graduation,” said Dr. Melissa Balknight, Associate Superintendent/ Academic Services for Gaston County Schools. “The Career Signing Day Ceremony supports the goals of creating an educated workforce and local workforce talent pipeline by promoting these students that go straight into jobs after high school. While we talk a lot about kids that are going to college, we want to make sure that we celebrate the kids that are going into a career just as much because they are certainly needed in the workforce.”

Through the Community-Based Grants Initiative, Gaston County Schools was awarded $632,857.47 by the Golden LEAF Board of Directors for the Gaston County Advanced Manufacturing Career Academy. The Career Academy addresses the education and workforce training needs of Gaston County employers by increasing the pipeline of skilled workers prepared for employment through aligning Career and Technical Education (CTE) training and post-secondary education.

“The Gaston County Advanced Manufacturing Career Academy is paramount in establishing a talent pipeline for our current and future manufacturing businesses,” said Balknight. “It aligns perfectly with Gaston College’s Advanced Manufacturing Program, Apprenticeship 321 program, and the College’s recently constructed Center for Advanced Manufacturing.”

Over the three years of the project, 29 CTE students completed the program and graduated, 31 students earned certified production technician (CPT) credentials, 271 students earned Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) credentials, and 91 students earned college credits.

“Every student in the Career Academy programs can earn four CPT certifications and the OSHA safety certification,” said Balknight. “The Golden LEAF funding for the Advanced Manufacturing Career Academy allowed Gaston County Schools to create advanced manufacturing programs that vertically align with Gaston College’s Advanced Manufacturing program. Students enrolled in the Advanced Manufacturing Career Academy can and have participated in internships programs with local manufacturing companies.”

Our local business advisory committee knows to reach out to us about their needs.

“Our business and industry are very excited about the talent they are able to get from the Academy,” said Balknight. “They call our career technical education director all the time. They let us know they need five people that can do a certain skill. We work with the students and pull information from the database to let them know there are certain companies hiring that align with the skills our students have. The biggest success is that we have kids leaving high school that can make a livable wage for themselves.”

After students finish high school, they have options. They can go straight into work or gain more skills, credentials, certificates, and degrees at Gaston College.

“When they leave us, they can get even more certifications and credentials at the Community College,” said Balknight. “We work hand in glove with the Community College. The Gaston County Schools and the Community College have the same goal in mind.”

Golden LEAF’s funding helped expand the Academy in Gaston County to serve new business needs.

“I think the biggest hurdle was for us to find the startup funding for other high schools,” said Balknight. “Once the funding was announced, we had other businesses come to the table to say that they wanted to help. They call all the time wanting our students. We really work to grow our business partnerships for the long term.” 


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