Executive Director, Hamilton County Center for Career Achievement
Q: The name ‘Hamilton County Center for Career Achievement’ has a broad scope. What is the goal for HCCCA?
A: The overarching goal for HCCCA is to integrate the K-12 education systems to be reflective of the workforce needs and demands in Hamilton County. This means that we want to provide all students with learning opportunities that will help them find a career path and get connected with Hamilton County companies. Ultimately as young adults, we want them to live, work, and play in Hamilton County.
By connecting education and industry together, we can create talented workforce pipelines that enable students to gain skills and credentials necessary to start their career right out of high school, but also provide flexibility to simultaneously prepare students to pursue a post-secondary degree. Hamilton County is leading the state in finding innovative solutions to education and workforce development issues, and other communities are attempting to replicate the work that we are doing in Hamilton County.
Q: Why is it important to keep students in Hamilton County for Career and Technical Education?
A: The historical model of sending a student to a career center to receive comprehensive Career and Technical Education opportunities is falling short in Hamilton County. Currently only about 500 students attend a career center program. While these programs are robust, and embedded with high school credit, dual college credit and industry credentials; we need more students engaged to meet the needs of our local industry demands. If we can build programs that prepare students for life after high school and college, while keeping them in their own school buildings and deliberately connecting them with employers, we are truly able to build a pipeline of talent that will impact our students, families, business and our county as a whole.
Q: There are several pilot programs happening in the schools now. What pathways are created through those programs?
A: We researched the industries that drive Hamilton County when deciding which pilot programs to launch. The pathways that have been developed include: Advanced Manufacturing, Healthcare, Cybersecurity, Construction Trades, Civil Engineering, and Agriculture. Some students are already placed in these pilot programs, while others will launch in the fall of 2022.
Q: What are students saying about those classes?
A: It is amazing the impact that education can have when a student is able to see the relevance of what they are learning. Because these programs are connected to industry, students are learning skills and competencies that they can directly apply in a real-life setting. Oftentimes this is accomplished with project-based learning and work-based learning opportunities, but we are also building out apprenticeship models. Students are seeing that they can leave high school with skills and credentials that will allow them to get a job making a fantastic wage. In many cases, employers will pay for a student’s degree while they work. We are reshaping what it means to “go to college” through this initiative.
Q: How is the community engaged with HCCCA?
A: HCCCA has been embraced by the community. Employers see this initiative as a viable solution for their workforce needs. Schools see this as the missing link in some of the coursework and instruction available to their students. Local government and local businesses have invested in this project to dynamically change how we educate and train our students. It is an exciting time to be in Hamilton County!
Q: How does HCCCA change the workforce in Hamilton County?
A: Innovation and collaboration. We are making relationships where none have existed before. We are connecting education to industry. We are challenging what it means to be successful in the world in which we live. Through HCCCA, we want students and their families to understand that there is not a singular model for success after high school. For the last 25 years, we have been led to believe that unless you have an undergraduate degree (any undergraduate degree) that you have found the “golden ticket” to success. In Hamilton County, we send nearly 94% of our high school graduates to college after high school, and over one third of these graduates do not have a degree or credential 6 years later. This equates to a population of young adults with limited skills and disproportionate amount debt. If we can engage our students into the workforce before leaving high school, we can help them make better informed decisions about their life after graduation. We can get the students skills, credentials and dual credits they need to effectively write their own ticket to success.
Q: The school year is rapidly coming to an end. What’s next for HCCCA?
A: We are planning to launch new programming in the fall, with this comes additional partnerships to foster and expand. Ultimately, we would like to see the expansion of programs for years to come. As our partnerships with business and industry expand, the opportunities for students will expand as well. We are working on a marketing campaign to promote the Career Center concept to the community, helping to address the stigma that has long been associated with career and technical education. We want students and parents to understand that the goal for everyone is the same. All students want to find careers in which they can be productive and live their best lives, and all careers can be pursued through career and technical education.
Q: Why are you passionate about creating CTE opportunities for students in Hamilton County schools?
A: In my professional career, I have been a schoolteacher, school counselor, and school administrator. I've worked with students all over the state, and I discovered that my passion was helping students find their passion. I think we have an opportunity to help engage students in ways that we've never had before. I truly feel that when learning becomes relevant, kids get excited about school. I want to help students at all grade levels to explore the careers that are available to them, make connections to their interests and future occupations, and give them the chance to experience the world of work before leaving high school.