POWHATAN – Family and future employers recently stood witness as 11 Powhatan High School students made big commitments for their futures.

PHS was one of 300 high schools nationwide to participate in National Signing Day 2019 by holding an event on Wednesday, May 8 in the school library. Sponsored by SkillsUSA and Klein Tools, the event was designed to have graduating seniors who are completing certain CTE courses sign "letters of intent" for a job offer, apprenticeship or advanced technical training.

At PHS, 11 students participated in the ceremony highlighting the school’s Career and Technical Education (CTE) program. After remarks from a few school officials to recognize their hard work, the students were called up in the order of the companies hiring them and asked to sign a certificate of intent marking their plans to work there.

Ten electricity students who have been participating in a work-based learning co-op program signed with companies that they have been working with and that now have hired them while they work through their four-year apprenticeship. After four years of apprenticeship, they can choose to take their licensure test to become licensed electricians.

Those students and the companies they signed with are: William Arrington and Stone Cave signed with Davis and Green Electrical; Grayson Melton, Jacob LaMack, and Nathan Poe with Tolley Electrical Corp.; Ryan Minter with JL Minter Electrical Contractor; Dawson Ramsey with Express Electric Co.; Shane Baldwin and Hunter Moore with Douglas L. Gill Electrical, and Rodney Jones with Humphrey Electric Co. Inc.

Garret Nester, the lone carpentry student to participate in the signing day, will also be receiving on-the-job training from the experienced carpenters in Sonshine Countertop Repair Inc., the company in which he will now work to further develop his skills.

Electricity/carpentry teacher Mike Payne applied in October 2018 to be one of the schools holding a SkillsUSA Signing Day and learned in February 2019 that PHS had been selected. Payne said his purpose in applying for the event was to participate in a celebration that highlights the future path his students are choosing – which may be different than many of their fellow students’ paths but is no less important.

“I’d like to think that hopefully moving forward, if it’s not a SkillsUSA and Klein Tools Signing Day, that we have some type of signing day where our kids that are choosing to go to the workforce or the military get some recognition, because it’s a noble thing to do. Work is a noble thing,” Payne said.

During the ceremony, John Ringstaff, assistant principal, talked about the importance of partnering with businesses in the community to close the skilled labor gap. He pointed to statistics that say 83 percent of companies report a moderate to serious shortage of skilled workers and 69 percent expect the shortage to grow worse in the next three to five years.

The high school’s CTE program is designed to provide the skilled workers the commonwealth and the nation need right now, said Dr. Mike Massa, principal.

“It is absolutely a program that we are so proud of here in Powhatan and there are so many different people who go into working on that – that is obviously our parents and students, who put in the hours and the support at home,” he said.

Senior Grayson Melton said he grew up listening to stories about being an electrician from his dad and always had an interest in it. He joined the co-op program in his senior year and has been working with Tolley Electrical part-time. When he learned about the signing day, he was excited both because of the similarity to signing day for athletes and because of the assurance of having a job in an in-demand field when he graduates.

“People always need lights and electricity, so there is a job all the time in this field,” he said.

Jacob LaMack moved to Powhatan in his junior year and started taking an electricity class. He said he fell in love with the field and joined the co-op in his senior year to work part-time with Tolley. He added he used to feel pressured about college, but once he started the electrical class, he knew it was the right path for him.

“I just love doing something with my hands. I don’t like sitting in an office,” he added.

LaMack added that participating in the signing day felt like it “gave meaning to the people who actually go out and work right after school after they graduate. It felt pretty special.”

Chip Humphrey with Humphrey Electric Co. Inc., who is also on the school’s CTE advisory board, said he appreciated an event that shows students college is not the only choice after graduation. He praised the comprehensiveness of the CTE program as a whole and how PHS prepares the students for their potential future careers.

The companies who partner with PHS on the co-op program also benefit because they are hiring young people they have had the chance to work with part-time over the last year or more and observe their interest in a career, not just a job, he added.

“You get to know them and know what you are getting before they go full-time,” he said.

With the nation dealing with a major shortage of skilled workers, having a CTE program like the one at PHS and holding an event to celebrate the students choosing that path is a big deal, said Greg Green with Davis and Green Electrical. He also appreciated the early access to the students as they are learning the trade so he can make sure they are learning the skills correctly.

“It gives us an opportunity to train them right from the very beginning. We are able to teach them right instead of them learning things wrong and then coming back to us and we are trying to retrain them and unteach some bad habits,” he said.

Laura McFarland may be reached at Lmcfarland@powhatantoday.com.

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