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Burke Works connects teachers with workforce

posted Jun 27, 2017, 1:46 PM by Cheryl Shuffler


Burke County Public Schools hosted its first summer internship program for teachers the week of June 12. Called Burke Works, the program targeted Career and Technical Education (CTE) teachers and included tours of local manufacturing companies and discussions with local employers about today’s workforce needs.

For three days, 15 teachers, as well as the career development coordinators from each of the four high schools, loaded a bus in the morning and spent the day seeing for themselves what is manufactured in Burke County. They toured Manufactured Solutions, Continental, Opportunity Threads and Ekornes. They also toured and experienced a hands-on project at Western Piedmont Community College and toured Carolinas HealthCare System Blue Ridge. The program concluded with a round-table discussion with area managers and human resource directors from Kellex and Valdese Weavers as well as a representative from NC Works.

Burke County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Larry Putnam said, “There are high-paying jobs with great benefits and clean, healthy working environments right here in Burke County, and I am so excited that through Burke Works our teachers got to see that first hand. It is important that our teachers know what is made in Burke County and hear from workers and employers about what skills are needed to fill local jobs. While we are educating future doctors, lawyers and engineers, as a former employee of the furniture industry myself, we need to remember that we also are educating future plant managers, assembly line mechanics and sewing specialists who will work in Burke County and contribute to our local economy.”

The idea for Burke Works developed from Burke Partners in Education meetings, which are held once a month during the school year and involve Burke County Public Schools, the Chamber of Commerce, Burke Development Inc., Western Piedmont Community College, NC Works, Carolinas HealthCare System Blue Ridge and WIOA.

Rexanna Lowman, director of Secondary Education and Career and Technical Education for Burke County Public Schools, said, “Many of our students and principals have had similar opportunities to visit businesses and industries in our community, and we felt it was important that our teachers be exposed to the same experience. I want to thank the Burke Partners in Education committee and especially Burke Development Inc., for making a generous financial donation to Burke Works to help make this idea a reality.”

Burke Development Inc., contributed $1,500 to the program. BDI president and CEO Alan Wood said, “This was a great opportunity for Burke County teachers to learn about our existing industry. The more our teachers can get out into these companies to see and explore them in person, the better prepared they are to share information with students about local job opportunities.”

            Here is what some of the teachers said about Burke Works:

Stephanie Eggers, business teacher, Draughn High School, said, “The CTE Internship Program was packed full of wonderful tours, industry leaders and invaluable time spent with our colleagues. I learned innovative ways industry is using to manufacture their products, the computer technology they require and the type of employee skills they require for employment.”

Kelley Lytle, health science teacher, Draughn High School, said, “I had no idea that several of those businesses even existed in Burke County. Some of the technology we were introduced to was mind boggling. We often hear that there are no jobs in Burke County and that simple isn't the case. However, the main message I took away from our tours was that while the skills we teach our students are extremely important it is just as important that we attempt to teach them to be productive, responsible, and positive members of a team. That's what the employers are looking for.”

Ed Hallyburton, business education teacher, East Burke High School, said, “I really enjoyed learning about SolidWorks and the hands-on project at Western Piedmont. I believe students will really enjoy and benefit from the technology used in the engineering department. The career opportunities available to students and the many exciting technological advancements being made in the area of textile and material development were very interesting. Capping off the week with an HR roundtable conversation discussing the role we as educators play in developing a skilled workforce was very beneficial. I have already begun utilizing the connections that were made.” 

Rosa Padgett, CTE teacher. East Burke High School, said, “It was exciting and amazing to see things going on in our community with technology, business, manufacturing and employment. We live in a great area and thank you to everyone that helped put together such a worthwhile adventure for teachers to explore things that help teachers connect education to the workforce.”

Donna Simmons, CTE teacher, Draughn High Schools, said, “I truly enjoyed the entire week. To see all the different businesses and the help for small businesses and entrepreneurs was nice to see and to know about.”


Photo: Burke County Public Schools CTE teachers talk with Molly Hemstreet at Opportunity Threads, a worker owned, cut and sew textile plant in Drexel.