Students learn about products made in Oconee
By Norm Cannada
Editor’s note: For a list of more than 60 businesses and industries and the products they make in Oconee County, click here.
SENECA — The 800 or so high school students arriving this week for the annual tour of the Hamilton Career Center got more than just a tour this year to help with their decisions about what courses to take next fall.
“We always have some sort of ninth-grade tour where the ninth-graders from the high schools have a chance to sort of see our programs and some of the current students and instructors in action as sort of a recruiting effort that we try to do in the winter before spring registration takes place,” career center director Chad Lusk said. “In the past, we’ve also done business and industry days like career day opportunities.
“We realized that part of getting kids to understand the importance of career and technology education and why they should take courses over here is to be aware of what jobs are available and what products are actually made in Oconee,” he added. “We decided to have a mashup and call it Made in Oconee Day.”
The name was taken from an emphasis that has been a priority recently for the Oconee Economic Alliance and Destination Oconee, which emphasizes the products made in Oconee by more than 60 businesses and industries throughout the county.
“Part of the Destination Oconee program is really focusing on all that makes Oconee County great,” Destination Oconee manager Janet Hartman said. “We work with the school district on the different initiatives and helping reinforce the industry that we have here and the opportunities that we have here for employment.
“Personally, I’m surprised with the number of things that are made in Oconee County that maybe you wouldn’t have thought of,” she added. “When we talk to others, they drive by a facility and they don’t know what is made inside that facility.”
Lusk said helping students learn what is being made in Oconee industries and businesses was one of the reasons for the different approach. Walhalla High students arrived at the career center Tuesday morning, followed by West-Oak students that afternoon. Seneca students visited the center Wednesday morning. Each student preselected three programs to visit for 30 minutes each during their time at the center and met representatives from local companies in those program areas.
“We’re trying to make that connection that this is why career and technology classes are important,” Lusk said. “We can convince kids to come take a course, but they don’t understand that they’re getting the prerequisite skills that employ them at these local places.”
He added that the Made in Oconee emphasis gave the students “the understanding of the products that are made” locally.
“They may drive by Itron every day and they don’t understand that they make meters that are on the back of their house,” he said. “Now they’re not only understanding that, they’ve got somebody from Itron talking about what they make. It puts it in a big bow and ties it together for everyone. I think our kids see themselves as students and don’t understand when they take our technical courses how it ties that to our local economy and local job market.”
For Lusk, the Made in Oconee label also emphasizes the need for career center students to become Made in Oconee workers. Alliance executive director Richard Blackwell said recently that there are currently 400 job vacancies in the county that have not been filled because qualified workers have not yet been found.
“What we’re hearing is what we do in the career and technology world over here is what the businesses and industries and what higher ed is saying the kids need in terms of soft skills and more hands-on practice,” Lusk said. “For every 10 jobs, only one requires more than a bachelor’s degree and two require a bachelor’s. Seven of the 10 requires some type of technical training.”
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