Pelham students gaining hands-on experience in career tech program

Published 4:23 pm Monday, September 19, 2016

PHS students Unicel Garcia, James Hollingsworth and Alex Montgomery spend about half of the day at the Alabama Workforce Training Center gaining hands-on experience in skilled labor trades. (Reporter photo/Keith McCoy)

PHS students Unicel Garcia, James Hollingsworth and Alex Montgomery spend about half of the day at the Alabama Workforce Training Center gaining hands-on experience in skilled labor trades. (Reporter photo/Keith McCoy)

By BRIANA HARRIS / Staff Writer

PELHAM – A select group of Pelham High School students are getting hands-on experience in skilled labor trades – equipping them to start working in their career field immediately after high school.

Pelham City Schools is one of 14 school systems in the greater Birmingham area selected to participate in the pilot program at the Alabama Workforce Training Center in Birmingham. The main reason the school system was chosen is because it does not have a nearby career technical center.

The opportunity was created by private commercial and industrial construction industries, the Alabama Department of Education’s Career and Technical Education Department and the Alabama Industrial Development Training Center.

The program gives students in grades 10-12 training in building construction, masonry, HVAC/plumbing, welding and electrical work. With the program being in its first year, Pelham only has 12th grade students participating, but next school year guidance counselor Laura Cochran said she hopes to have 10th and 11th grade participants.

The program was created because there is a shortage of qualified skilled laborers, Cochran said.

Cochran said the program is designed to have students start in 10th grade and participate until graduation. Ideally, in 10th grade students would learn safety and basic training and then progress to hands-on training in 11th grade and cooperative learning or community college in 12th grade.

Cochran said the 13 students participating in the program had to complete an application, write an essay and go through an interview process to gain a spot in the program. Students were interviewed by actual industry professionals like a real job interview, Cochran said.

“This is a great opportunity for them to see other options for their future,” said Pelham assistant principal Amanda Wilbanks. “We talk a lot about college, but there are some students looking for a different path.”

Monday through Friday students spend half of the day at the Alabama Workforce Training Center. The program covers all costs related to tuition, transportation and equipment and supplies for students.

Twelfth-grader Unicel Garcia, who is a part of the electrical program, was recently named employee of the month.

“I was excited because I saw that my hard work payed off,” Garcia said. “I enjoy it because it’s a fun environment and you get to be around others who are pursuing the same career that you want.”

Right now, Garcia said he is leaning how to bend conduit.

“It’s a lot of hands-on work, and I like it because once you learn it, it’s not easy to forget,” he said.

After graduation, Garcia said he will have the option of going straight to work or pursuing a college education. He hasn’t decided which route he will take.

Building and construction program participant James Hollingsworth, 12th grade, said being employee of the month is a goal of his. Since starting the program he has been promoted to head construction helper, the instructor’s right-hand person.

“When the instructor needs help, I’m the person they call on,” said Hollingsworth, who recently built a wall in class.

After graduation, he plans to work in construction during the summer to earn money for college. He wants to study finance and accounting at UAB.

Welding student Alex Montgomery hopes to put his experience in the welding program to use in the military. He hopes to join the Marines as a welder after high school.

He said he is learning how to use power and hand tools so that he can receive a certification.

“We’re getting experience and nationally recognized certifications that most people don’t get until after high school when they start working in the field,” Montgomery said. “By the time we finish high school we’ll already be more certified than most other people.”

Hollingsworth and Montgomery said although the program is fun, it is also competitive.

“Every day on the bus we talk about what we’re learning and it’s kind of competitive,” Hollingsworth said. “We try to top what the other person is doing and it keeps you on your toes.”