Local officials are moving forward with the launch of a manual machining program at Reidsville High School, thanks in part to a $200,000 grant from the Golden LEAF Foundation.
The lab, which will be located at the 900-building near Community Stadium, is a collaborative effort between the City of Reidsville, Rockingham County Schools and Rockingham Community College.
The program, which is most likely slated for a full launch in January, will give students a chance to earn certification to either enter a related career following graduation or to transfer to a community college program.
Rockingham County Schools Superintendent Rodney Shotwell said that grant donation will tie in with approximately $132,000 worth of renovations needed to prepare the portion of the facility designated for the future lab.
Allocation from Golden LEAF will be used to purchase five manual lathes, five manual mills and other various tools and equipment.
The program will allow RCC machining classes to be taught on the Reidsville High School campus and, according to officials, will help fill the growing need for qualified employees — a leading issue that constrains business industry in the local economy.
The proposal for grant funds and the outline of the program was presented to the school board in March 2018 by Shotwell, CTE Director Ken Scott and Reidsville Economic Director Jeff Garstka.
According to statistics presented by Scott during the proposal, 45 percent of 2015 high school graduates within the district did not seek post-secondary education.
Figures from the N.C. Department also show that in the same year just over one-third of Rockingham County citizens between the ages of 16-19 were unemployed.
That total dropped to 21.1 percent for young adults age 20-24.
During the April request for full approval of the grant proposal to Golden LEAF, Scott said that according to the N.C. Department of Commerce, 13 percent of Rockingham County residents over 25 have a bachelor’s degree, 19 percent didn’t complete high school.
Scott said the 68 percent of residents that have graduated high school and don’t necessarily plan to go to college, are the hope and future of Rockingham County’s economy.
“The backbone of our economy resides in that 68 percent in the middle and programs like this machining proposal that the City of Reidsville has spearheaded is a big step in making the most out of that 68 percent,” Scott said.
Growing interest in manufacturing opportunities has been a key component for local leaders in the current push to improve local workforce development.
During the same presentation last April, Garstka told the education board that about 80 percent of new jobs are created by local business and that he constantly hears from local manufactures about employee-based struggles in front of them.
Those complaints, he said, revolve around a workforce inability to fill positions or complete nominal tasks such as showing up for work on time.
“At any given time, we have learned that there are about 800-900 available jobs throughout Rockingham County at our local industries,” Garstka said to board members, just one day before the governor’s announcement that Albaad would be expanding locally and creating 300 new jobs over the next few years.
“When people say there are no jobs here, that is not true,” he said. “The problem is there is so many available because they can’t find people to fill them. This machining program — is just one piece of the puzzle, but it’s a critical one.”
In early February, Senator Phil Berger announced in a press release that he is very supportive of Golden LEAF’s decision to allocate grant funds toward equipment, tools and facility improvements.
The Rockingham County Board of Education unanimously approved the design and architect of the lab project at their Feb. 11 meeting.
In a memo to the board, Assistant Superintendent Sonja Parks said that once bids are returned, renovation contracts will be brought back to the board for approval
“Education is the great equalizer that allows folks to create their own success regardless of their background,” Berger said in the release. “Technical education programs like this one give students a jump-start on developing the skills needed to build their career path.”
Shotwell said the program, which will feature lathes and other machining, is a first for Rockingham County Schools as an off-campus offering.
Prior to its launch, RCC officials will work on accreditation with students taking courses on site and not on the college campus.
Shotwell said lining career technical education courses with job opportunities can help stimulate local business growth, while filling some of the needs they have.
“I feel that it gives us an opportunity to start getting kids prepared, who might be more interested in a hands-on field,” Shotwell said. “When kids have hands-on experience like this, their math skills are also going to increase tremendously too and we are going to be filling a need that is here in the county by having some machinists there.”
Shotwell added that the program could also house computer-aided design modules in the future, giving students an opportunity to design items on a computer and then create them on a connected machine.
The superintendent called the program a wonderful opportunity and partnership. He said that success increases the chance for the RCS to do something similar at the district’s three other high schools.
“I think it has a lot of potential,” Shotwell said.