Training Centers Give Head Start

September 15, 2006
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Students in the Muskegon, Ottawa and Kent intermediate school districts not only have lots of opportunities to examine choices for their future careers, they also are being prepared for easier entry into those careers.

The Ottawa Intermediate School District Careerline Tech Center, the Kent Intermediate School District Kent Career/Technical Center and the Muskegon Area Intermediate School District Muskegon Area Career and Tech Center offer classes to students that prepare them for careers right out of school, as well as for post-secondary education that will lead to careers.

The centers work hand in hand with area businesses, industry leaders and area institutes of higher learning to make a career path easier for students to follow.

“Our tech center really exists for two different goals,” said Allison Kaufman, director of communications and marketing for the KentIntermediateSchool District. “One is career exploration. What are some of the different careers they might be interested in? The other thing that we’re really focused on is actual preparation for the workplace and additional learning. Everyone now needs to be a lifelong learner.”

Kaufman said the students are prepared for entry-level work with the idea that they will continue with some kind of education or training, whether in a higher-learning institution or in an on-the-job capacity. Kaufman said the technology center is different from a traditional classroom because it offers hands-on experience in a variety of industries, from cosmetology to business management.

“You get real work, real world, real learning, because everything is hands-on,” she said. “So many people do fabulously well with hands-on learning.”

Meanwhile, Kaufman said, students can determine if they really like the career path they are learning. If they decide to continue with that path, Kaufman said they will have an advantage when they get into the field or if they pursue additional learning programs. 

“I think they have the opportunity to hit the ground running a little better than someone who hasn’t attended the tech center,” she said.

The Kent Career and TechnicalCenter is expanding its medical programs, with four different sites: on campus, at the Cook-DeVos Institute downtown, at ByronCenterHigh School and at Grand RapidsCentralHigh School

The center serves at least 2,700 students from more than 80 high schools in the KentIntermediateSchool District, including public, private, parochial and home school students.

All three of the centers have advisory committees for the various programs, made up of members of the particular industry.

“They go over the curriculum, they go over equipment, they make recommendations so that we keep everything current, so there’s a real tie,” Kaufman said. “We do work to reflect the needs of the community.”

The CareerlineTechCenter in OttawaCounty serves 1,400 high school juniors and seniors from 11 public schools in Ottawa and Allegan counties, as well as students from private and parochial schools. Director Dale Henderson said there are 31 programs offered at the center, ranging from the service industry to the health industry, including two new programs in pharmacy technology and emergency medical services.

Henderson said in addition to the skills students gain at the center, they also have the chance to earn college credits.

“You can actually start with almost up to a year of college credit under your belt,” he said.

All three centers have agreements with area colleges and universities, as well as a few out of state institutions.

Mike Carpenter, Muskegon Area Career and TechCenter principal, said the centers give students a new way to look at their education and learning.

“It gives a lot of kids the opportunity to involve themselves in a program that makes sense to them; it provides relevance to their academic training,” he said. “If we can show them how the academic training that they receive is relevant to their life, it makes all the difference. It’s hands-on training, but it requires a lot of the work skills as well as the head skills.”

Carpenter said it also helps the local economy by providing a base of potential employees for area employers.

“We have a lot of employability skills that are a part of every one of our programs,” he said. “We’re trying to build a good employee.”

While the Muskegon Career and Technical Center is only in its second year, Carpenter said it is going well. The center is now at 760 students and looking forward to meeting capacity at 960 and the possibility of future expansion.    

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