Tech school - Engineering class

Daniel Dye / The Herald

From left, pre-engineering students Hayden Lowe and O’Neill Estes discuss a recent projects in class.

The Elmore County education system is keeping up with current workforce demands by offering a wide variety of vocational and professional classes at the Elmore County Technical Center (ECTC).

The tech center was established in the mid-’70s during a time when tech schools leaned heavily toward teaching students a vocation.

Simply put, the new generation career and technology education (CTE) programs here and across the country are no longer older generations’ shop classes. 

Vocational ed is out; CTE is in. 

“I think what we had until recently was a college mentality for all,” tech center assistant director and counselor Emilie Johnson said. “What we are doing now is not discouraging college. All the programs we offer have a college option. All the programs also have a straight to workforce option through credentialing.”

For example, students taking public safety and law classes may continue their studies at UAB, Troy University or Southern Union or begin the process of securing a job as a corrections officer, firefighter or paramedic.

All 12 programs have similar pathways for students to consider after graduating high school — continue with higher education or take those credentials and join the workforce.

In 2014 when center director Dr. Jimmy Hull was hired, there were eight programs and around 350 students attending the school. Today, around 800 students participate in the 12 tech center programs.

“We are split between two campuses because of the growth we’ve had,” Johnson said. 

 Subjects offered at the tech center include automotive, aviation, computer, construction, electrical, hospitality and tourism, HVAC, medical sciences, pluming and pipefitting, pre-engineering, public safety and welding.

“There are several factors for our growth,” Hull said. “The shift from the state of Alabama has put more of an emphasis on technology education. Also, we closed some programs and added new programs based on labor data, and we constantly promote the programs.”

An example of labor data driving decisions at the center is the recent addition of HVAC classes.

According to recent data from Bureau of Labor Statistics, the occupation is projected to grow 13% from 2018 to 2028 which is considered a much faster rate than the average of all occupations.

The staff makes sure every ninth-grade student in the county is aware of what the center offers by bringing those students to the facility for a tour. 

“We rely on social media,” Johnson said. “We get out the community to dispel the myth that tech school is for students not going to college. We are trying to communicate that message that tech school is for all students.”

Hull indicated the dual-enrollment program with Central Alabama Community College in Alexander City was another major factor for increased enrollment.

Students have ability to take several different college freshman-level academic courses at a reduced cost. Career dual-enrollment courses in manufacturing and welding are free as long as the student maintains a 2.5 GPA. For more details, contact the tech center at 334-567-1218.

“Dual-enrollment programs got the attention of parents,” Hull said. “It started attracting more kids and it showed what success can look like.”

Speaking of success, the school and its students are high achievers. In 2018, the school ranked third out of all tech high schools in Alabama for career credentials earned by students. Students earned a total of 806 career credentials during the 2016-17 school year. 

As for the future, the center expects to eventually have a new building on its campus. The additional building will allow the center to remodel its current buildings. 

“I can easily see us up to 1,000 students,” Hull said. “We are looking at diesel mechanic, computer science and early childhood education programs. If we could get to 15 or 16 programs one day, that would be ideal.”