Students of all ages train for high-tech workforce
As demand for workers in fields such as information technology, advanced manufacturing and health care continue to grow, Kingsport’s schools, community college and business organizations are working in tandem to ensure the flow of talent to high-demand industries remains steady and strong.
Full STEAM Ahead
Kingsport City Schools has been addressing workforce demands with an emphasis on STEAM, or science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics. Included in the curriculum are coding courses for middle schoolers as well as project-based learning models in the high schools and a one-to-one laptop policy for students beginning in fourth grade.
“When we look at where our career focus is – where we are now and where we know careers are progressing – it’s going to be critical for our children to have expertise and to have experiences in those STEAM areas. We want to give them the foundational knowledge to be thinkers and problem solvers but also the scientific knowledge in order for them to pursue those types of careers,â€ says Andy True, assistant superintendent, Kingsport City Schools.
Ready to EXCEL
Another example of the school system’s commitment to cutting-edge college and career readiness is D-B EXCEL (Dobyns-Bennett Excellence in a Creative Environment for Learning), an alternative high school that allows students to learn at their own pace through a blended learning model that allows them to take some of their courses online while having access to instructors and support staff.
“Because of our flexibility, we’re able to work with students on things like interviewing skills, how to be an advocate for yourself, time management, and goal-setting both academically and personally,â€ says Shanna Hensley, D-B EXCEL principal.
Hensley says the school also encourages project-based learning that exposes students to various careers within the community.
“We’ve got a lot of project-based learning that occurs here, and through those projects, we’re exposing them to careers within the community. We may have people from the community come in and talk to our students about what they do, and we also have business and community leaders come in and work with students on real-world projects, such as a marketing campaign for Keep Kingsport Beautiful,â€ Hensley says.
True says the school system also partners with other community organizations, such as the Regional Center for Advanced Manufacturing at Northeast State Community College and STREAMWORKS to give students access to hands-on and high-tech experiences that will ultimately prepare them for college and careers.
STREAMWORKS is an educational program that allows students to participate in robotics and project-based workshops, camps and competitions that focus on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) skills and teach creativity, communication and collaboration at the same time.
“In the year 2020, 1 million computer science jobs will go unfilled in our country because we do not have enough kids coming down the pipeline to fill those jobs. Something has to be done. Our engineering deficit is 50 percent. We use robotics and strategy and math because that’s what our industry needs,â€ says Dennis Courtney, executive director of STREAMWORKS. “They also need people that know how to read a ruler and that understand how to write Java programming, and they need workers who show up on time. We teach our STREAMWORKS kids those soft skills that help them learn what it means to be a part of a team – how to communicate – and we teach them about ‘gracious professionalism.’â€
Centered on Training
Northeast State Community College also plays a major role in preparing the workforce for increasingly technical jobs. The Regional Center for Advanced Manufacturing, a 26,000-square-foot training facility, is one example of the college’s workforce development efforts. The facility features the latest simulators and equipment to prepare students for 21st century advanced manufacturing jobs. RCAM, as it’s known, also serves as the Northeast State Office of Economic & Workforce Development, which works with area businesses and economic development organizations to customize programs that recruit and train talent.
“We’re called in quite a bit to talk to prospective businesses who may be looking to relocate here, or locate here, expand in the region. What kind of training programs we have, what our current workforce is, how we can connect them to our students and opportunities, and also how we can customize anything that they may need for their particular business, or whatever industry they may be in,â€ says Jeff McCord, vice president for Economic and Workforce Development, Northeast State Community College.
RCAM also employs a mobile classroom to take high-tech, hands-on learning to local schools. In the mobile classroom, students are exposed to STEM-based experiences and introduced to careers in advanced manufacturing.
“We reach out and encourage what we call pipeline development, which is encouraging students all the way from middle school to understand what kind of career paths there are for them,â€ McCord says.