When Mike Rowe, host of Discovery Channel’s program “Dirty Jobs,” calls Henrico Career & Technical Education (CTE) programs “a model for every other technical school in the country” and says he hopes others will follow Henrico's lead, you know you’re doing something right.
Henrico CTE is planning for the future with new locations, innovative programs, and local business partnerships. Yet the County’s commitment to a skilled technical workforce goes way back.
Case in Point: Ballos Precision Machine
Located in the Brookland district of Henrico, Ballos Precision Machine has been fabricating a wide variety of tools and machinery since 1982. For owner Tom Ballos, the journey began when he first walked into the machine shop of Henrico County’s Hermitage High School as part of a vocational training program.
“What sold me on becoming a machinist was finishing a major project they gave me – building a steam engine from scratch,” says Ballos. “When I saw the smoke start coming out and the wheels start turning, I knew then that was what I wanted to do.”
After many years as a machinist, Ballos chose to start his own business in Henrico for easy access to his company’s customer base. Ballos Precision Machine, a Legacy company celebrating its 36th year in Henrico, has since expanded into two more adjacent properties and grown to a staff of nine who produce an array of items, ranging from robotic parts to professional tools. Two of his most memorable jobs are creating a geodesic dome that was sent to Africa and a camera platform for ESPN that films auto races from a bird’s-eye view.
“We rarely ever turn down a job,” says Ballos. “When people say they can’t, we will. Those are the kinds of jobs we like most.”
Investing in a Technically Trained, Work-Ready Labor Force
Tom’s technical training and success is a story to be proud of, as developing technical skills in the workforce has long been a concerted effort for the County. Today, Henrico’s CTE system has more than 30,000 course enrollments, providing training to thousands of students and adults in the regional labor pool of over 670,000 workers. Henrico’s expanding CTE system, comprised of advanced career centers, in-school programs, specialty centers, and more, provides training and career pathways for a wide range of occupations.
Mac Beaton, director of Henrico CTE, says, “We’re preparing students for jobs that may not even exist yet – making sure the skills we’re teaching will be transferable into the new workplace.”
“An auto mechanic can make very good money, and now the first tool they pick up is usually a computer to run diagnostics,” explains Beaton. “It used to be that you either went to college or developed a trade skill. Now the two go hand in hand. Students are now pursuing both education and certifications, and employers are often willing to cover their post-secondary training.”
Partnering with Area Businesses
Henrico CTE programs work closely with area businesses to gauge which types of skill sets are in high demand. In response to employer feedback, every CTE student now receives soft skills training and earns a workplace readiness certification. Every technical training student sits for OSHA 10 safety certification, which most businesses are now requiring, giving new hires a jump-start in their fields.
“We look at business partnerships as a handshake, not a handout,” says Beaton. “We’re here to serve our community, and our product is our students. We listen to what businesses are asking for and do our part to deliver, making sure we provide the skills to make people employable in the region.”
Henrico CTE and other workforce groups also partner with local businesses, government, and trade associations to give students practical, hands-on training through internships, part-time work, and more. “We don’t just teach skills in isolation – we apply them to the real world,” says Beaton.
Expanding Training Opportunities
As part of Henrico County 2016 Bond issuance, Henrico will expand its CTE facilities by constructing the East Area Technical Center in the Varina district and a new technical center at Glen Allen High School. Other regional workforce and training opportunities are on the rise as well, including the following few and more:
Attracting Celebrity Attention
This year, the Henrico CTE held its first Signing Day – an event that publicly recognizes CTE students who are entering the workforce. The event was modeled after national signing day in college sports, where high school athletes announce which schools they’ll be attending. Signing Day for Henrico’s CTE included students and their future employers signing letters of intent with position in front of their families and media members.
News of Henrico CTE’s signing day captured the attention of Mike Rowe, who commented in his blog: “This is the way forward. No attempt to close the skills gap will ever succeed, until or unless we celebrate those who are willing to learn a skill that's in demand. This is not just a terrific idea, it's a model for every other technical school in the country. A big thanks and a hearty congratulations to whomever pushed this idea forward. Here's hoping others will follow Henrico's lead.”