Wednesday, 11 November 2020 16:01

Career pathways set up for Richmond County students to enter workforce

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Instructor Vic McCaskill stands flanked by Zac Sharpe, left, and Kendell Watson. Sharpe was hired by the Aberdeen Fire Department in June, just before graduation and Watson is currently an intern with the department. Instructor Vic McCaskill stands flanked by Zac Sharpe, left, and Kendell Watson. Sharpe was hired by the Aberdeen Fire Department in June, just before graduation and Watson is currently an intern with the department. William R. Toler - Richmond Observer

ROCKINGHAM — When Zac Sharpe landed a job with the Aberdeen Fire Department, he met a goal set by Richmond County educators involved in the Career and Technical Education program.

Those goals, according to Career Development Coordinator Jason Perakis, are to have students ready to enter the workforce, attend a community college or university for more education or training or join the military when they leave high school.

Greg Norton, CTE director for Richmond County Schools, said that of all career pathways offered in North Carolina, the local system offers 27.

Getting students on those pathways now starts in the fifth grade, per federal funding guidelines, and continues through middle and high school, according Norton.

While students are in middle school, students learn about career clusters and by the eighth grade start concentrating on a four-year plan, Norton said, which includes finding out which pathways they want to pursue and making sure they’re scheduled for the correct classes in high school.

The middle schools and high schools also provide career fairs, inviting representatives from local companies to come in and talk about what they do for a living and what it takes to get there.

Perakis said there are 16 career clusters, including law, health, manufacturing, human services, business, agriculture and STEM, which stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

From those clusters, he said, are extended pathways.

Norton added that the pathways are two to three courses each and a student can complete multiple pathways while in high school.

For example, the law cluster includes the firefighting cluster, which is what Sharpe chose.

Instructor Vic McCaskill said some students, like Sharpe, have gone on to join departments including Noah Stubbs, who was hired in 2019 by the Rockingham Fire Department.

“It’s been a great learning experience,” Sharpe said. “The stuff that you learn here is the core of the fire service in general.”

If you keep going, he added, “it opens opportunities that you never saw coming.”

Sharpe expressed interest in the field at a young age, becoming a junior firefighter with the East Rockingham Fire Department nearly nine years ago.

After going through the courses at the high school and serving as an intern, Sharpe was hired by Aberdeen on June 8 and the department had to let him off shift to graduate.

“I came and I walked and did the ceremony and then I actually went back in to work,” Sharpe said. 

Sharpe said he’s still excited to go to work every morning.

“They say … ‘If you enjoy your job, you never work a day in your life,’ I believe it,” Sharpe said. “As long as you work hard and truly enjoy it, the opportunities will come naturally. It’s that hard work that really builds it.”

Sharpe’s fellow junior firefighter Kendell Watson is currently interning with Aberdeen. Watson’s older brother, Brenden, works with the West End Fire Department.

There were also students who interned with the Hamlet and Wadesboro police departments.

Other students interned with: Therafirm, Trinity Manufacturing and B&D Spindles for manufacturing; VBC Manufacturing for architecture and construction; Murphy Chiropractic, Richmond County Hospice and FirstHealth Fitness for health science; Sports Cycles, Griffin Toyta, Dieffenbach G.M. Superstore and Phil’s Automotive for transportation and automotive; and even Richmond County Schools.

This year, there will be students interning with Superior Cranes, the Richmond County Chamber of Commerce and Bennett Deane Insurance, among others.

Norton said the school system is partnering with Richmond Community College, where students can enter an apprenticeship “where students are paid a guaranteed wage, they get their high school diploma, they get their associate degree for free and they also are getting on-the-job experience and a guaranteed job when they graduate.”

Perakis and Norton said many students and parents don’t realize all the school system has to offer in terms of career prep, which has evolved from vocational education.

Gov. Roy Cooper recently issued a proclamation recognizing November as North Carolina Career Development Month and Nov. 15 as North Carolina Career Development Coordinator Day.

Before Perakis took his current position, he and his brother owned a company for 30 years. After selling the company, he taught advanced manufacturing at the high school.

Many of the teachers previously worked in the fields that they teach, including Elizabeth McDougald, who is a registered nurse.

Richmond Senior High School has a fully operational auto shop, run by Tony Clewis, who said several former students have gone on to get jobs at vehicle dealerships and a diesel-repair shop.

The high school also partnered with RichmondCC to install a welding shop.

There is also a graphic design and print shop, where students create signs and T-shirts; drafting and engineering labs; classes that offer digital animation, game art and 3-D modeling; as well as courses in carpentry, culinary arts, early childhood development and health science.

Students also have the opportunity to put their learning to the test through SkillsUSA competitions.

Even with the specialty classes, Norton and Perakis stress to students that core subjects like math and English are still important.

“We are producing the students our community needs to be productive,” Perakis said.

Instructor Tony Clewis shows off a new piece of equipment at Richmond Senior High School's automotive shop.