At the age of 14, Cynthia Villa is already exploring several different career options for her future. Villa is one of 44 freshmen currently enrolled in the area’s new workforce readiness high school called Southeast Area Technical High School (SEA-TECH), housed at Cape Fear Community College’s North Campus in Castle Hayne.
The class of 2021, which began this semester, is the first at SEATECH.
The school is a joint partnership between the school systems of New Hanover and Pender counties and CFCC that’s providing high school students with all the main courses of traditional instruction, blended with the addition of hands-on, career- based learning.
Vocational and technical education is becoming another option for teens in getting workforce training, now an increasingly available alternative for students around the country.
“It was my option if I wanted to come or not,” Villa said of her decision to attend SEA-TECH. “It’s a different high school experience.”
Villa is not completely set on her future, but she said she is exploring a career in hospitality and tourism or would like to go into the medical field because the two careers are marketable in the Wilmington area.
Though her two passions are very different from each other, Villa, and other students, will get the chance to explore different career opportunities, what they require and get class experience and internships within their first years at SEA-TECH.
SEA-TECH is designed to focus on career training and provide skills to make a student employable upon graduation, SEA-TECH Principal Edith Skipper said.
“SEA-TECH is committed to providing these children with real world, relevant experiences that will help them identify their passions and graduate ready to enter the workforce,” Skipper said.
In their first year, freshmen take a career survey course to decide on up to three different pathways they want to explore, said Duke Wallin, career and program development coordinator at SEA-TECH.
SEA-TECH is offering seven programs of study this year with more than 70 career-focused certificate areas to choose from, from accounting to welding.
Students get a chance to tour CFCC’s programs and classes in these areas and sit in instruction for a week. Eventually, they will get a chance to get credentialed or certified or get a diploma or degree in their career pathway of choice.
“They will have multiple credentialing, and they will both get that from us and from the community college. “They will graduate with some type of plan ... they’re either going to be going to some post-secondary institution for further education or skills or right into the workforce,” Wallin said.
The program is continuing to develop. The school expects to grow to 450 students over the next four years.
“The big thing for us is we can’t do this without the support of our local businesses,” Wallin said.
SEA_TECH builds on existing vocational and technical pathways at CFCC, in addition to its college transfer pathways and Wilmington Early College High School – opportunities offered to high school students through the state’s Career and College Promise (CCP) programs.
A state-funded program, CCP offers qualified high-school-age students in North Carolina the opportunity to pursue a tuition-free, two- or four-year degree, certificate or diploma while they are in high school, allowing them to get a jumpstart on their workplace and college preparation.
Per a new state law, the CCP programs and free tuition opportunities are being extended to vocational and workforce training programs for high school students. CFCC and Brunswick Community College (BCC) are working to build the new pathways, college officials said.
According to Greg Bland, dean of Continuing Education and Workforce Development at BCC, the college and Brunswick County Schools are working on developing the CCP pathway through its Continuing Education and Workforce Development.
“As with existing career and college promise pathways, our new pathway will go through the approval process at the state level. Our pathway will lead to certification, third-party credentials and align with our local workforce needs,” Bland said.
The school also offers several pathways in the CCP program, the college transfer pathway, the College Technical Education and Brunswick Early College High School, which is available to rising freshmen, according to Jerry Smith, coordinator for the CCP program.
There are 115 high school CCP students registered in courses at the college so far this semester, Smith said. The college is expecting more when the new program launches either in the spring or fall semester of 2018.
“Kids have so many opportunities these days. It’s really neat to see,” Smith said. “We’re excited about it, that it’s going to be a new opportunity for the students and open up avenues and different pathways that aren’t offered in the normal curriculum. The more opportunities for students, the better.”
Through the tuition-free workforce programs, a high school-enrolled student can become job ready and get the industry-standard certifications they need, Velva Jenkins, vice president for Continuing Education, Economic and Workforce Development at BCC, said.
“That’s what this is designed for. Predominantly, the juniors and seniors that really do not want to invest two years or four years into college,” Jenkins said. “But they need to have the right credentials to go right to work.”
Offerings to be included in the new program can be completed within a semester or two.
“Employers are seeking individuals like that because employers, if they have an immediate need for a welder, they can’t wait for two years to get that welder. They need that welder now. So the short-term workforce development programs make individuals immediately ready for the workforce,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins said advertising for the new program is scheduled to take place in November or December.