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  • Writer's pictureOlivia Liu

Interview : Workforce Development From the Perspective of a Technical Training Institute

Updated: Dec 8, 2023

An Interview with Michael Minter, President and Founder of the Career Academy in Martinsville, Virginia

September 1st, 2022

Discussion Summary:

Students who receive technical training certifications in high school are granted the option to enter skilled jobs in the workforce straight after graduation.

Through its connections with local businesses, employers, and participation in grant programs, the Career Academy helps local students find on-the-job training opportunities within their desired fields even if they do not take classes at the Career Academy.

To ensure that the school’s curriculums remain applicable to workforce demands over several years, the Career Academy’s administrative staff actively participate in economic and educational boards.

Could you provide a bit of background on the Career Academy’s operations?

My school is for juniors and seniors from two different high schools, and they choose to come here half of their school day and we line them up with careers and they may study fields from cybersecurity to cosmetology even if it’s not their career. But it’s an opportunity to learn hands on. So that’s what we do here—a lot of hands on real-world applicable skills taught every day.

What are some of the specific career fields that the Career Academy teaches to?

Just to give you an idea in our industrial maintenance and HVAC class 80% of students last year in that program went on straight to the workforce. In the HVAC or in a maintenance type, position, or job. The 20% that did not—it’s pretty interesting. They went to our local community college, or they went into the military so that’s a very high success rate. We don’t focus just solely on getting a job. We show students the opportunity to further their education while they’re maintaining a job. So, we bring in our local community college and we bring in business partners so they can see students in cybersecurity—that’s our newest program and our smallest right now. Those students are obviously going on to further their education. Some of them have come out of here with as many as five certificates. And the students who are in right now are some are on their fifth, some are on their ninth I mean, they’re really diving into different certificates. In our agricultural program. We partner with local veterinarians, and our local SPCA, and they do they actually have Mondays where they zoom in on surgeries at our local SPCA from here to the local establishment and they also they go out for job shadowing opportunities. We have in the time we’ve been together they have already hired one of our students to be a vet tech. And while she continues to work on her Veterinary Science degree, and her dream is to be a vet and she understands her steps along the way she needs to take.

What are the benefits of offering certifications to high school students?

Yeah, so certifications, it depends on the different area. But in some areas, you don’t need a four-year degree. You need the skills you need to practice, and you need to certification. And you can take that and make a career with it. And we pay for those with our Perkins grant allotment. And I don’t know if you’ve done any research on Perkins, but Perkins is a federal grant that schools get money from, but we pay for it. So, the students are going in with a knowledge they’re going in with a skill and they can further their education obviously and get more certificates or they can go straight into the workforce a couple of students in our industrial maintenance class are actually number one in the welding maps are they’re number one in the engineering program at Virginia Tech right now. So, in one of our former students is actually working as a nuclear rocket scientist.

What employment opportunities exist in Martinsville?

Prior to NAFTA, being signed in Martinsville, Henry County had the most millionaires per capita in the world, when not when NAFTA was signed in our furniture and our textile industries left, which caused a huge decline in industry in our area. And now I would say we’re kind of on the up and coming. We have industry coming in. It’s just not as big as it used to be. So, when it comes to our industry, it is growing. By leaps and bounds and there are companies that are investing in our community. Different types of skill sets, obviously, we have everything from cabinetry and elite, dressmaking and table making at what’s called Benchmade which is a Basset furniture company, or entity and then there’s also a company that a lot of people don’t know about that works with aerospace material in our winter industrial parks, and, you know, it’s a very high lucrative offer. If you get hired by this company, and it’s his house in Erie County and so we have a lot of variety in what we can do. So, when it comes to our facility here and the base schools as well the two other high schools, we have to prepare students for the soft skills so they can then learn the technical skills they need.

How does the Career Academy design its courses to progress in maturity and depth as students get older?

I’m going to mirror a student and what a student would do and all of our students in in grades 6 through 12, taken a couple of assessments, looking at their personality things they’d like to do and then as well as their learning styles. And what happens is after you do these assessments, it comes up with what’s called a fit score right here and that fit score gives me an opportunity to go in and learn more about those opportunities. And it tells me you know, if I if I deselected all of these and I say, “Well, I have a high school degree” and it’ll tell me what jobs I can get. The really neat thing is, it looks at how much it pays me and tells me is this a low growth or a high growth? And these are all jobs that are related and in our community. So, there are some jobs obviously, that it’s going to populate for students that are not in our area. And but then we it shows him the type of education they would need the type how much money they can make. And depending on you know, what they wanted to do. Is there a job in this community for that? And if there’s a job in the community, it actually lists the zip code. So, our sixth grade through 12th grade students use Major Clarity. It also has a ton of financial resources or scholarships for students. It has a college exploration pathway to where you can even look down to technical or for two years, so we take students through this in all of our career and technical classes starting in the sixth grade. We help them with building a resume, as well as work-based learning opportunities. So, we bought into major clarity about six years ago as a division. And so, we’ve seen students come through it and we’ve seen benefits, we’ve seen opportunities grow. And actually, before I got on this webinar, I was on a webinar with the two leads that I’m connected with. It made me clarity on how we can get some of our new teachers trained. So, that’s kind of how we lay the pathways out. How do we get to the pathways we teach though? We look at the job market. We look at what’s called a trailblazer report and we try and look 10 years out to what we should be doing 10 years from now to prepare those students that are in elementary school.

How are students given opportunities to explore multiple career pathways?

So, one of the things we focused on is we want you to have opportunities before you graduate. But graduation requirements are put in this box by the State Department. And we actually have if you want to graduate Henry County, you’ve got to do a little bit more than what that box is. So, we built in opportunities in the summer align when we’ve had that even before COVID. So, about the last 10 years. We’ve had online learning opportunities so students can get ahead. And if you’re passionate about band, and you want to take two blocks of band because we’re on a block schedule, take this in the summer, where your freshman year and your 10th grade year, which will then open up your schedule to explore more options. And just this year, we started the same thing here at the Career Academy to where students can take virtually their English and their government and be here all day. If they were geared towards one of our curriculums. Then they’re here all day and they’re working with that hands-on stuff and spending time honing that craft so that’s what Henry County has done. We’ve seen a need we’ve tried to address the need.

How are students are advised on what kind of post-secondary educational path to take?

The state tells you how many counselors you can have in a building and all that but one of the things Henry County has done is we have worked over the number of counselors that are required so we have one additional counselor at each high school. So, there’s four counselors at both of the high schools. Both of the case high schools also have two college guides. One is through the University of Virginia, and one is through Patrick Henry community college and then we also have a workforce guide, who helps connect them with jobs in the community. So, at those schools, you have two college cards as well as a career coach. And then and then you also have your educators that are you know, experts in their field.

How does Martinsville’s rural setting affect its workforce development efforts?

The place affects it greatly, because you may want to do something that we don’t have an opportunity for. So, then it’s a matter of how do we find a virtual opportunity for you and we recognize that virtual opportunities are not the same as real opportunities. The benefit we do have is we’re an hour north of Greensboro, North Carolina, which is a major hub, and we’re an hour south of Roanoke, Virginia. So that’s another major hub. So, we look for those opportunities, and we try and help students see that and what we can do we do and what we can’t we know we can’t, and we just tried to make it better.

How do work-based learning opportunities increase and equalize the accessibility of like these workforce training opportunities to students of all backgrounds?

This is my 22nd year in education. I’m a product of Henry County and was not going into education but ended up in education. Since 1992, okay, so it’s quite a few years. We’ve had the O Henry program, which is an opportunity for students at both high schools, seniors to take one of their blocks and go out and learn about a job a, a certain type of work-based learning a doctor or a nurse, wherever. And what we do is we give seniors the opportunity to apply for them in requisition. We’ve never run out of spaces, and we have an O’Henry coach who goes and works with local industry, everything from the dog catcher to the doctor. They’re working with people in our community to line up these opportunities for students. And what happens is students make application it’s not based on any type of specific merit. It’s wide open to whoever can fit it in their schedule, in his own time to graduate because on time, graduation is critical. So, if you want to do an internship and how to sew that person’s job is to find an internship for you. And they spend all year the year before during the summer working to secure you in an injury internship. And then we line you up with some years you’re able to do multiple most years, you can do one

The next set of questions I’d like to ask are about the career academies incorporation into the Henry County Public School System. How does the Career Academy work within the local public school system?

Yeah, so we are an entity of Henry County Public Schools. So, we are part of the schools. There are two high schools Bassett High School and Magna Vista High School. And to go to the Career Academy you have to be a junior or a senior. And then you pick to come here with what we offer. It doesn’t matter what your GPA is. It doesn’t matter what your discipline is. None of that matters. It matters that this is what you want to do or what you want to try as an opportunity. We if you decide after a semester, this is not the opportunity for you. There’s a waiting list. There are people ready to come so we offer the next student opportunity. We don’t have what’s called a specific application. You enter what you want to take. And then what I do is I go through each student, and I look at “are you on time to graduate is this something you want to do, and you chose to do?” And then okay, we’ll come on. And then students spend either two of their blocks in the morning or two of their blocks in the afternoon, their junior year with us, and then seniors will do the same thing. There’s a select few who choose to stay all day. And they have to be successful. They have to be really successful to take those online classes because we learned that not everybody’s a virtual learner.

So if there is a student who say is needs to take other classes in their actual schooling to be on course to graduate and get all their credits, but they still want to have this like very focused career training. How would they be able to get that training outside of school hours, maybe.

So we don’t have something outside of school hours. But what we do is if you’re a student who says I really want to do welding, or I really want to do cosmetology those college guides that are in the school are who I connected with because you don’t have to come to the Career Academy to do that as a career. We just give you a strong foundation. So if you’re in the if you’re in the base school and you’re not on time to graduate, our number one goal has to get you to graduate. Once we know you’re on track, we can get you out here and do that. So we have a lot of conversation with juniors about staying on track. You know, making sure you complete your tasks. And we’ve had students who did not listen and are not back from the previous year. But there’s a number of students waiting to come. And what we do with those students is if we know that what their passion is about the local community college is going to be their next step after us anyway. So we connect them with that college guide.

Could you provide some history on the Career Academy’s relationship with local high schools?

So, we had four high schools at one time around the earth from the early 2000s. Back to the mid 90s. We didn’t have six at one time, but where we started shrinking as a community, we had to consolidate to save money. So, we went from four six high schools to four high schools. Then we went to two high schools. Well, what happened when we did that was certain programs were at certain schools. So, if you were a student at Bassett, you had the opportunity to do HVAC, industrial maintenance, and cosmetology. If you were at Magna Vista, you had an opportunity to do agriculture and other programs. And I became the director of secondary, so I was over all secondary schools, middle and high school, and I met with the superintendent about we’ve got to be able to offer the same opportunities. It’s not equitable for me to say a student at Magna Vista. So, in doing that, having these conversations we were building a cup an elementary school to handle outdated schools. So, the building that the Career Academy sits in was an alternative school for students with discipline issues. So, we were going to close it down. I pitched a hey, what about this idea? Let’s put these programs there. And you’re probably too young to know this movie, but Field of Dreams. If you build it, they will come. What we’ve done is, is we built a facility where students from both schools can come and learn those things and have an equal opportunity. And now when you look at the two schools the two schools have all the same opportunities. And then at the Career Academy, the same opportunities they can both they both give equal seats to come. And there’s opportunity for those students here. as well.

Do you have any insights to how those more niche subjects like manufacturing across the whole country in public schools—are they accessible to students?

In Martinsville, it is readily accessible. We’ve had it in Henry County for a long time. That our newest program like I was telling you cybersecurity, we are actually it’s foundations of cybersecurity and then it’s cybersecurity. And manufacturing, and it’s advanced cybersecurity manufacturing. And because that’s needed and we teach students how to use robotic arms, etc. But um, it’s something that’s taught all over, it’s just sometimes called different things. Most people here manufacturing they think factory and what a factory looked like 20 years ago, a factory does not look like that today. It is more than likely air conditioned, pristine, clean area, and it’s very different.

How do you design curriculums to still be applicable after a few years?

It’s like you’re looking at a crystal ball hoping to predict the future. It really is. The benefit for me is I have four staff members. And of my four, three sit on the Virginia Department of Education. They sit on the board for the curriculum, so they’re very invested individuals and making sure that we prepare students, they’re keeping up with the technology. They’re keeping up with the changes, you know, air conditioning units are kind of grimy right now. But they’re going to this really clean look and automated you can change things from your phone. So, one of the things this year was we purchased more modern technology. And actually, my cybersecurity students are going to try and hack the air conditioner in the industrial maintenance shop. So, we’re trying to defeat each other and do that. So, we’re trying to find new ways to innovate and, and help students see those things.

How does the Career Academy engage with local businesses, government, and public?

A lot of that through our marketing so that video is about to hit YouTube will hit our Facebook channel. Really, it’s word of mouth of the students and through local, our connections. We partner with our chamber of commerce; I sit on three different economic development boards as a representative in K-12 education. I’ve kind of embedded myself in local businesses around to try and show them. The other piece of it is we invite employers here to see what’s out here and today we had two salons visiting. We had a new station here. And then tomorrow we’ll have some of our economic earnings.

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