Career Technical Center gives students options, tools
The Franklin County Career Technical Center in Belgreen is giving students skills and opportunities that will serve them well going forward and if it is up to Director Scott Wiginton those opportunities and skills will only expand.
The Career Technical Center, located behind Belgreen High School, offers nine programs to students of the county with a staff of both full-time and part-time faculty members.
Wiginton said the staff at the center is excellent and one of the strengths of the school.
“We have an excellent staff and we are proud of that,” Wiginton said. “We have high quality teachers instructing the students and offering them the opportunity to pick up skills that can help them get a job immediately. That is important and we are proud of that.”
The Franklin County Career Technical Center offers classes including Power Equipment and maintenance, Health and Pharmacy Technology, Business Marketing, Building Technology, Pre-engineering and Drafting, Welding, Collision Repair, Cabinet Making, and Cosmetology. Students from the center have already won awards and scholarships during competitions including recent wins by welding and cosmetology students.
“Our cosmetology program is brand-new and a lot of the students involved are sophomores and juniors,” Wiginton said. “So for them to go to a competition against larger schools and not only compete but win is incredible. It is a reflection of our students here as well as our great faculty.”
One thing that Wiginton is adamant about is the opportunities that these courses offer students in the county.
“Not everyone is going to attend college after high school,” Wiginton said. “Not everyone is going to a four-year university to become a doctor or a lawyer or a teacher and that is just fine.
“These courses offer the opportunity for students to explore things they might not know they are interested in. It allows them to find out if they enjoy something and to find out if they are good at something.”
The welding class at the center, along with most of the other programs, offers students the opportunity to use state-of-the-art equipment—equipment that they are likely to see on the jobsite.
Welding instructor Justin Steele said it is great to see kids have an interest in something that they can find a job in after school.
“These kids are great,” Steele said. “They are really interested in what they are doing while they are in the shop. And the fact that they are learning a skill and getting familiar with equipment that they will use on the jobsite is so valuable.”
The center also has a 3-D printer, which is relatively new technology and is another resource the center provides students and their futures.
“New technology is so important and you have to stay on top of it and keep evolving with it,” Wiginton said. “Thanks to some of the grants we receive we are able to have kids training on the newest machinery and with the latest software. That gives them the tools and the knowledge they will need going forward in order to find a good job when they’re out of school.”
Wiginton, who became director of the Career Technical Center in 2013, said it has always been one of his goals to keep the resources up to date.
“When a student gets out of school and goes to the jobsite, wherever that may be, they need to be confident in what they are doing,” Wiginton said. “And when they have worked on the same equipment for a few years and used the same software and technology that is being used on the job, they have that confidence.”
Along with welding, the collision repair program is one of the more popular at the center. Collision Repair instructor Steve Watts said he likes to treat his classes as a business environment.
“When we are in here, when the students are in here each day, every week, we are all on the same team,” Watts said. “There are no Bobcats, there are no Wildcats, and there are no Bulldogs or Tigers. When we are in here we are on the same team.
“I have the kids clock in, on time, and I have them dress out, just like they are going to work at a real body shop,” Watts said. “I’m trying to show them and teach them what it would be like to work out there.”
Wiginton pointed out that a big role of the Career Technical Center is to listen to local industry and help provide workers that can fill their needs.
“I try and see what local industries around here are looking for,” Wiginton said. “I try and listen to what they are saying about their workforce needs and in turn fill those needs.
“We have programs here that are almost tailored specifically for training students to do the work that local industries need,” Wiginton said. “And by doing that we are helping the community and these local businesses, but also we are helping our students become trained and confident in the skills they need in order to get a good job.”
The cabinet-making program at the Career Technical Center is one example of that. Wiginton said the students in that program are working with the exact same equipment those employees at Tiffin Motor Homes in Red Bay use.
“We’ve got brand-new saws and drills that are at the top end of industry standards,” Wiginton said. “They are learning to build custom cabinets on the same equipment the folks at Tiffin are using.”
Wiginton continued by saying the top three jobs needed in the area—healthcare, CNC machinery, and welding—are programs that are offered at the center.
“We have programs currently addressing those job areas that are in the most demand in the area,” Wiginton said. “So when students leave here they might have a few college credits and can continue their education in whatever field they are interested in, or they can go directly to work sometimes because they will already have most of the basic training and skills needed to start out.”
Phil Campbell Elementary Principal, Jackie Ergle, said that education is changing so much and that it will likely continue to do so.
“Education has really changed with how technology has been incorporated and how students learn now,” Ergle said. “It has changed a lot in just the last five or six years.”
The students at Russellville Middle School have enjoyed the CHOICES program for the past two years—a program that brings community members into the school to share tips and lessons on how to prepare for getting a job. RMS Principal Deanna Hollimon said those lessons go a long way with tying a student’s whole experience together.
“We have to start putting students on a path at an earlier age now,” Hollimon said. “We have to help them start exploring opportunities and realize their options.”
Wiginton and his staff at the Franklin County Career Technical Center are definitely helping students have the opportunity to explore options and interests, according to Watts.
“These kids might come into my class thinking they are going to like what we do in here,” Watts said. “And if they do, that’s great, we can teach them and show them how to get better. And if they don’t like it then that is good too. They can move on to something else. They have options here.”