By 2030 in North Carolina, a projected 67% of jobs will require a post-secondary degree or credential. On its current trajectory, post-secondary educational attainment in the state will only reach 54%. Increasing the number of qualified people in the workforce, especially for jobs requiring a post-secondary degree or credential, is necessary for North Carolina’s economic vitality.
Surry County Schools is increasing the attainment of post-secondary credentials through the Next Generation Career Academy.
In 2017, the Golden LEAF Foundation awarded $320,046 to Surry County Schools to establish a college and career academy. The Next Generation Career Academy is providing students access to career pathways targeting advanced manufacturing, health sciences, agriculture and other trade/industry employment sectors.
“With funding made possible through the Golden LEAF Foundation, our Next Generation Career Academy has been designed to be a catalyst in rural, tobacco-dependent Surry County for connecting economic development, workforce preparedness, and education,” said Dr. Travis L. Reeves, Superintendent of Surry County Schools. “Our model has strengthened the partnership between our local community college, educators, and business and industry leaders as we have created a direct pipeline to the workforce and created upstream opportunities for our students to be employed.”
The pathways offered by the Next Generation Career Academy include virtual courses, college and career counseling, and connections to local industry internships and apprenticeships. To date, 32 students have completed internships or work-based experiences and have earned industry credentials and college credit.
“Through the Next Generation Career Academy our students’ eyes have been opened up to opportunities that exist for them here in Surry County, and our local businesses have experienced the talent exhibited by our youth,” said Reeves. “This program has given our students a real-world experience beyond the brick and mortar high school, where they can apply their knowledge and skills in an authentic way.”
Andrew King – a senior at East Surry High School in the Spring of 2019 – was employed with a local restaurant making $8 per hour with no tips and no potential for future job growth. Andrew liked working with his hands and was open to going to college but did not know what field to study.
Crystal Folger-Hawks, a career coach at his high school, connected Andrew with the Next Generation Career Academy. She knew Siemens, a local manufacturing company, needed a paid intern to assist with a remodel and growth project at the plant. Andrew applied for the Next Generation Career Academy program, interviewed at Siemens, and was hired for an internship in the Spring 2019.
Siemens then developed an apprenticeship program through ApprenticeshipNC in conjunction with Forsyth Technical Community College and offered their first spot to Andrew. He is currently an apprentice at Siemens and enrolled in the computer-integrated machining program at Forsyth Tech. He has already doubled his pay and will quickly triple his earnings. Andrew will graduate the apprenticeship with a two-year associates degree and two years of experience without any debt. Siemens has also agreed to pay for Andrew to continue his education to earn a four-year bachelor’s degree in Business.
Without this program, Andrew said he would have wasted years of his life and money trying to figure out what he wanted to do.
“All students should partake in some type of internship to help decide what you want to do with your education,” said Andrew. “Although kids are intimidated by the workforce, if you just take that first step, it can change your whole life, help you to value yourself and motivate you to get up every day.”