Not every student can find traditional paths to success. A program designed to reach local high school students with learning challenges at Midlands Technical College offers an alternative avenue.
The Building Occupational Opportunities in the Midlands program provides construction job training for those students and connects them with member companies of the Builders Industry Association of Central South Carolina. Students learn skills in high school and are able to secure jobs or internships with local homebuilders, helping to fill shortages in the Midlands construction industry.
“This is meant to really help a growing number of high school students currently on a track that would not earn them a high school diploma or a GED,” said Sherry Rivers, principal of Heyward Career and Technology Center, where many of the students from last year’s pilot program attended school. “This program is an opportunity for students who may not otherwise have the skills for an entry-level job in the construction industry.”
Rivers said MTC and the school districts it’s partnered with hope to expand the program beyond the construction industry, potentially to manufacturing and other careers.
“These are students who are not typically completers of career technical education programs, but with this program, they’ll already be able to earn their Occupational Safety and Health Administration certification — an opportunity a lot of high school students never have,” Rivers said.
High-functioning high school students with disabilities receive a 10-hour OSHA construction credential and a certificate in building construction from MTC, according to a news release from the college.
All of the senior students who completed the BOOM program last year received jobs in the construction industry, and all of the juniors had internships during the summer, Rivers said.
“Those students are very excited to use what they’ve learned as they get ready to enter the workforce,” she said.
The program, which graduated 14 students last year, received recognition from the S.C. Technical College System as the best collaborative program among state technical schools.
“The work of the BOOM program team perfectly captures the spirit of the award,” Tim Hardee, president of the S.C. Technical College system, said in a news release. “The (program) team didn’t see a challenge, but instead an opportunity to fulfill our mission in a creative and innovative way.”
Rivers said she hopes to continue to have grant, sponsorship or other funding opportunities for the program in the future.
“We look forward to expanding our focus to other career fields as we prepare for another group of students in 2019,” Rivers said. “The BOOM program is truly preparing tomorrow’s professionals in a very innovative way.”
Parents are thrilled with the program, Rivers said.
“These are parents often worried about what’s going to happen to their sons and daughters, especially if they’re not going to receive a traditional diploma,” she said. “But they’re very positive and excited about this program, where their students learn not only technical job skills but also soft skills like interviewing or completing applications. We help them with those other skills, too, and that’s a great benefit for parents who feel more confident that their children will be prepared.”
The students visit job sites, where they get hands-on training and an introduction to the industry, watching workers in action.
The industry side of the program has been supportive, Rivers said, especially since the program helps fill skilled worker vacancies at the companies.
“There’s a gap in entry-level workers, and what we’ve proven we can do with this program is fill that gap,” Rivers said. “Special needs students have the ability to get the technical skills for these jobs, but previously just didn’t have the opportunity. This is truly a win-win situation for everyone.”
Hardee said during an awards presentation last month that the program helps fill a community need while providing an opportunity for students.
“When two evolving needs converged in the community at the same time, this team made it their goal to respond to both challenges with a single solution,” he said. “This team developed an incredibly innovative, highly successful construction job training programs for this population.”
The BOOM program also won the program of the year award from the S.C. Division on Career Development and Transition and the 2018 outstanding continuing education cooperative program award from the S.C. Association for Higher Continuing Education, according to Midlands Tech.
“Innovation is about firsts,” Midlands Tech president Ron Rhames said in a statement. “BOOM was the first time Midlands Technical College created a training program specifically for high school students with disabilities. Innovation is also about thinking outside your own organization and leveraging the ideas and support of partnerships in the community. I invite others in the community to partner with MTC in helping these students.”
Rivers said it’s her hope that the program will expand, offering more opportunities to more students.
“We’re excited to expand into other areas where there’s a gap or a need for workers, such as manufacturing, health care, hospitality and tourism and many more,” she said. “This is really about the students and opening that door for them to show what they are more than capable of and the success and
value they can bring themselves and our local businesses.”