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NCSS hosts work-based learning group

COVINGTON, Ga. - Work-based learning (WBL) directors, coordinators, and others from school districts across northeast Georgia met in Covington Aug. 31. Debra Lary, career related education and youth apprenticeship coordinator at Newton College and Career Academy, and her Newton County School System (NCSS) colleagues hosted the event.

“The regional WBL group gets together periodically to support one another, to share ideas and best practices, and see what other schools are doing with their industry partners,” Christina Hinz, career, technology and agricultural education (CTAE) supervisor for Henry County Schools and one of this year’s co-chairs, said. Cheryl Deas, work-based learning program lead for Gwinnet County Public Schools, is the other co-chair.

The event began with a tour of one of the NCSS’s local industry partners, Verescence which manufactures high quality glass bottles for the perfume and cosmetic industry.

After lunch at The Center in downtown Covington, the meeting continued with a presentation by Dwayne Hobbs, WBL program manager for the Georgia Department of Education, followed by a business meeting led by Hinz.

In most school districts WBL includes employability skill development, cooperative education, internship, and youth apprenticeship. In the past couple of years, a few districts, including the NCSS and Rockdale Public Schools, have added German apprenticeships.

“The NCSS is one of our model systems and Debra Lary does a fabulous job,” said Hobbs.

Statewide WBL is growing fast. “This past year we had the largest increase in the number of students in WBL we have ever had in Georgia,” said Hobbs. “We have passed 20,000 students per year getting one or two WBL credits apiece.”

According to Hobbs, there is a huge demand for people who have the technical training and credentials to fill middle-skill jobs. That is, jobs which require some sort of specialized secondary and/or post-secondary education and training, but not a four-year bachelor’s degree. “The whole goal is to get students in a career path where they can get the right level of training, in the shortest amount of time, with the least amount of debt, and then into a career,” said Hobbs.

Students learn a variety of skills through WBL, but according to Hobbs none are more important than a set loosely referred to as “soft skills.” Those include, but are not limited to, a variety of people, communication, and social skills as well as individual character traits such as common sense, flexibility, and attitude.

 “We work with businesses all across the State to try to make sure that what we are doing in CTAE is what business and industry needs,” said Hobbs. “The number one thing they tell us is soft skills, soft skills, soft skills and the number one way we can teach soft skills in high schools is through our work-based learning programs.”

Hobbs also exhorted the northeast Georgia WBL directors and coordinators to continue to engage with companies in their districts to develop quality WBL placements, training plans, and experiences for students; use their industry advisory committees; ensure students properly develop their WBL journals and portfolios; conduct two worksite visits per semester; and advocate for their WBL programs within their schools and communities.