Students in the Burrell School District have an opportunity to gain valuable work experience and special certifications through a career training program and a partnership with a local nonprofit.
The idea is to help interested students earn an advantage in possible future careers through a district partnership with Catalyst Connection, a public-private collaborative that offers small manufacturers in southwestern Pennsylvania consulting and training services.
"Whatever prepares them for success, that's what we're trying to do," said Shaun Reddick, a Burrell High School teacher who helped develop the program.
Students interested in engineering and manufacturing careers can take a course that teaches them important fundamentals about the work, including safety and quality mandates.
When they've completed the course successfully, students obtain certifications that they can add to their resume, giving them valuable experience that can help land them that important first job after obtaining their degree. The students also can use the certifications to obtain on-the-job experience at local businesses.
Last year, eight students successfully completed the program. This year, 22 students are taking part, said Sandra Oskin, a Burrell High School counselor who helps administer the program and connect students to the opportunity.
"It's one of our great resources," she said, noting that the experience the students obtain through the courses will serve them in future jobs in related industries.
Reddick said students are exposed to real-life problems that companies deal with on a day-to-day basis, and they learn how to develop solutions.
The experience is invaluable to students who can use what they learn in the program to work on-site in internships for eligible employers. The certifications are important because they are equivalent to what any worker would need to have to enter the workforce in certain industries, such as engineering and manufacturing.
The initial course work focuses on important safety and quality issues that students must know. Students can also learn about other areas, such as maintenance and manufacturing. They receive certifications in those subjects as well.
The program also provides students with critical experience by participating in high-stakes testing. They have two opportunities to pass the final test in the class, and if they don't succeed they have to take the course over again. Last year, all eight students passed on the first attempt, Oskin said.
"For those kids, having a leg up on the competition is a great thing," Reddick said. "We're trying to give them as many credentials as possible."