ALBEMARLE — The Career and Technical Education director for Stanly County Schools presented to the district’s board of education recently, telling them about the expanding number of career paths in which students can receive training, experience and certifications. One area they are putting a special focus on is skilled-trade apprenticeships, including on-the-job training in fields like automotive, HVAC or masonry.
Mandy Mills said the department has “built a very strong advisory council,” which involves teachers going out into the internship sites, like car mechanics shops, “to see what our local employers actually need.” The council also allows business members in the community to go into classrooms and see how they might work with the schools.
The chair of the advisory council, Chad Whitley, also spoke about the two first students in the program, who are doing automotive apprenticeships, and the council’s goals to expand it to include other skilled trades. Whitley owns Whitley Automotive, which has shops in Locust and Marshville.
“These young men that are the guinea pigs, so to say, of this program, are extraordinary young men,” Whitley said. “With the apprenticeship program that these boys are going to roll into, they’re going to get a free two-year degree. It costs them nothing.”
He said the state would pay for a tuition waiver for the students during the two-year program.
“The goal is now to expand that program to not just include automotive, but to include masonry, include electronics, include cabinet making, include HVAC, include some other programs as well,” Whitley said. “I have some partners in those fields who are willing to come on.”
Whitley said society has for a long time looked down on the skilled trades and pushed four-year degrees, but he said for 75% of Stanly County students, this kind of program would be a better fit for their future.
“They make $25,000 or $30,000 a year and owe $150,000,” Whitley said of many college graduates. “That’s not this. This they come out debt–free. This they come out and in 3-5 years, they can be making $75,000 or $80,000 and be debt–free. That’s good money. This is where we need to be pushing in Stanly County Schools.”
The commenting board members were very appreciative of Mills, Whitley and the progress made with the program.
“Thank you very much for your effort, for putting forward your businesses as a place for our students to learn and gain more knowledge, and certainly come out with a degree and a job,” board Chair Jeff Chance said. “And, obviously, we appreciate very much your willingness to expand the program as well.”
Whitley responded by saying, “These programs need to expand because this is our future. Skilled trades, and that’s what this is, automotive is not just about using your hands anymore. It’s about your mind, and it’s about critical thinking and deductive reasoning and being sure that you’re growing and expanding yourself, not just using your back the whole time. And the same thing goes for an electrician or a plumber. I mean, you should see the math that these guys use. This isn’t just back-breaking, digging-ditches work. This is skilled work.”
The two students were both enrolled in the program through West Stanly High School, although one of the students attends North Stanly High School. West Stanly High School is currently the only school in the county with the automotive internships, Whitley said, but the goal is to expand the program to the other schools while they are expanding the other trade options.
Mills also discussed other CTE initiatives, like programs involving computer science, drones and internships for students “in whatever area they are interested in.”
Mills said CTE enrollment generally stays steady at around 4,000 students, but due to COVID, it had dipped slightly and the “credentials earned” statistics dropped from 2,500 credentials earned by students the year before the pandemic to less than 1,500 during the past year.
“But what the state is allowing us to do that I’m really excited about is that when we get students back in the classroom, we can go back and do a review and let them take those credential exams,” Mills said. “They’ll still count for us and, of course, they’ll still count for the students.”