Proposed legislation recommends middle school technical education


WASHINGTON COUNTY, Va. - Local industries have vacancies they can not fill. They have expressed a desperate need for more students training in trade and technical fields.

The U.S. Senate is proposing to allow students as young as middle school students to get into the fields. One local company has already been working to reach younger students.

Austin Greer knew he would get a jump start on a job interning at Utility Trailer his senior year in high school.

"That'd get me experience in the workforce and get my foot in the door and get a job there," Greer said.

Greer said welding has always appealed to him, as he has watched his father work in machining his entire life. He took advantage of the paid internship through the Smyth County Career and Technology Center.

"A welder in trade school and a welder here, it's a whole different ballgame," Greer said.

That was more than two years ago, and now he is putting in full-time hours at the tractor-trailer manufacturing plant. That is the goal of partnerships between the company and local school systems: to introduce students to career opportunities in their own neighborhoods.

Connie Wyatt said, "We've got a lot of people in these trades that are retiring and they need to be replaced. We need good welders. We need good brick masons. We need good plumbers."

Sam Cassell is the plant manager in Glade Spring. He said right now the company employs about 540 people. They are still looking to hire 20 right now, and that number is going up with an expansion project underway and retirements on the forefront.

"We will need to fill those jobs, and where are we going to get them? In my opinion, it's from the up and coming school system," Cassell said.

Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia is trying to make sure that is possible. He, along with a group of bi-partisan senators, have introduced the Middle School Technical Education Program Act.

"It is really the case that the most important thing you can do to develop any region's economy is develop a strong work force," Kaine said.

The legislation would provide students with opportunities for apprenticeships and career counseling for high-growth, in-demand fields.

Senator Kaine will be in Glade Spring Friday to tour the Utility Trailer Manufacturing Plant.

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