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Business, Alcovy High leaders building workforce together
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Members of the Covington/Newton County Chamber of Commerce met with business leaders to tour the facilities at Alcovy High School on Tuesday in hopes of building a relationship with the school and fostering the growth of a potential future workforce.

The idea is for the schools in Newton County to build a symbiotic relationship with the county's industrial partners. The hope is that companies such as SKC, Clarion Metals and Fibervisions could provide a real world look at the concepts students learn in the career technical instruction program at Alcovy. In return, companies could possibly reap the benefits of well-educated and prepared employees.

"The concerns that the industry leaders have expressed to us is they want a workforce that is prepared and want to retain them," President of the Covington/Newton County Chamber of Commerce John Boothby said. "I think ultimately businesses want to know how to communicate with the school systems and work on developing that workforce."

Members of Alcovy's senior staff along with Career, Technical and Agricultural Education director Alison Jordan, walked the group around the two-year-old school and showcased several of the cutting edge classrooms.

Among them, the culinary arts department features a commercial kitchen complete with stainless steel appliances, drains in the floor and for the first time, will feature a certified chef as instructor.

For students looking to venture into the world of broadcast journalism, Alcovy boasts a state-of-the-art video production studio which doubles as the home for many talk shows and local broadcasts including Catch 22, a local channel that broadcasts recreation games and local commentary.

Alcovy plans to offer certified coursework that will prepare students for jobs once they graduate. The healthcare science and health occupations department will soon offer a certified nurse assistant program that will give graduates the ability to jump right into the medical profession and work along side registered nurses.

Construction science is available along with horticulture and agriculture. In each class, students get a firsthand experience with materials and machines and learn valuable trade skills. The meeting gave industry leaders such as SKC plant manager Tom Gray a bird's-eye-view of what the schools have to offer and he says the demand for skilled labor is only growing.

"We haven't really been able to tap the high school level for employees," Gray said. "We'd like to get some apprentice programs going on. If you look at my workforce, a lot of them are into their 40s and 50s. We need those in the 20s and 30s range that will build on our business."

Manufacturing teacher Douglas Blackwell offers students a chance to work with machines and technology commonly seen in large plants such as SKC which makes polyester film products.

"We are trying to get to a point where students are getting knowledge that they will actually take out and use and go to either a two-year school or on to a four-year institution," Blackwell said. "We hope to start getting input from the local businesses around and hope to get an industry certification program soon."

Alcovy Assistant Principal for Curriculum Debbie Stephens said the CTAE program offers alternative routes for students to build successful careers.

"The needs of our students are changing and we realize that not every child will go to college," Stephens said. "Some of these students are more hands on and are motivated by different things."

The school hopes to offer field trips to various manufacturing plants and industry sites so students can see what they've learned in action. At the same time, Alcovy teachers and administrators hope the industry leaders will send people to speak about their jobs.

"If you can have the community industries come in and talk to these students and they in turn can visit the industries and see how the stuff they learned is applied, they see the opportunities," Stephens said. "If someone comes in from the real world and talks to these kids and explains the income possibilities, they (students) realize there is more out there."

At some point, the day could come when students receive credit for working at one of the county's many manufacturing or commercial companies. For that to happen, students would have to meet Georgia labor laws, but the apprenticeship could be worth much more than high school credit if the student were to obtain a fulltime job upon graduation.

Even though the classrooms are taught at Alcovy, Eastside and Newton High students are offered the opportunity to take courses. In a day where skilled labor is at a premium and the job market is becoming more and more competitive, both educators and industry leaders are poised to work together to build the county's infrastructure.

"These are not the vocational classes we took in high school," Stephens said. "They have upped the rigor of these courses and there is much more emphasis on academics. The needs of our students are changing and there is a strong connection between academics and the vocational programs. I thoroughly believe we need to keep our industry and our workers here in our county."