A former weight room at Belton-Honea Path High School is buzzing with the sound of manufacturing equipment instead of the clanging of barbells.
This year the school launched an Introduction to Manufacturing course. The elective course provides students with training in the skills required by manufacturers in the state. In addition, Tri-County Technical College has created a career pathway for the students. Seniors at the high school can take one class in the fall at Tri-County Tech, one in the spring, then one in the summer, combined with a work program, and finish with a certificate of work for manufacturing, according to Richard Rosenberger, superintendent of Anderson School District 2.
“We have done extremely well with our graduation rate; it’s hovered around 90% the last couple years. But what skills are the students walking out with? Yes, they are college ready and can go to college, but if the workforce is demanding manufacturing skills, we have to prepare the students,” Rosenberger said.
Rosenberger said it is vital to train students in various skills since so many manufacturing companies are coming into the state.
According to the South Carolina Manufacturers Alliance, there are more than 5,000 manufacturing businesses in the state; and manufacturing’s share of South Carolina’s gross state product is $35.16 billion. That’s 16.8% of the state’s entire GDP.
With a $300,000 budget, the high school began last summer getting the manufacturing room ready. Students and staff alike worked during their free time to get it finished by the start of the school year. Equipment in the classroom includes a CNC laser engraver/cutter, 12” X 36” metal lathe, a metal milling machine and a Toyota forklift. In addition, various trainer kits will be used to teach pneumatics, hydraulics, programmable logic controllers, mechanical systems and electrical circuits, according to a news release.
Junior Hunter Richey was among those taking the lead in getting everything set up for the class.
“I like the hands-on aspect of it. You get to come in here and work with your hands and you don’t have to sit in a class all day,” Richey said. “My whole family is in agriculture. Both of my sisters went through FFA before this and I’m an officer with FFA right now, but I’m going to spend more time in here (the manufacturing room).”
Rosenberger said his district has “probably one of the best career centers in the state,” but four high schools share it.
“A mechatronics class that can hold 24 kids, that could be six from Belton-Honea Path. I cannot get enough of our students into some of these programs simply because there is not enough space,” he said. “That’s one point. The other part is, I cannot get enough of the students exposed to what manufacturing looks like.”
“They don’t even know what they don’t know,” Rosenberger added. “And if I can’t get them outside of the building to see what they don’t know about manufacturing, it’s hard for them to make a decision.”
Ben Woody, an agriculture teacher at Belton-Honea Path High School, took on the challenge of creating the curriculum for the class. He said it required a visit to Greer High School to observe a similar program there. He then talked with local industry and found out some of their needs and the skills they want in their employees.
“The students really did most of the work,” he said. “They set up the classroom, the equipment and made the work tables and shelves.”
Woody said the skills and principals the students will learn in Intro to Manufacturing will have them ready to enter the workforce.
“They will be qualified candidates,” he said.
The class is getting interest from industry.
“Touring this class, I was very impressed with all the equipment all the way down to how organized each toolbox was laid out,” said Kevin Craft, president and owner of IMS Belton, in a statement. “This teaches the students to pay attention to details. As a general and mechanical contractor in Anderson School District 2, we need a class like this to prepare our students with the skills I need them to have to begin working for me upon high school graduation.”
Greg Tysl, vice president of manufacturing at Med-line Industries Inc., said in a statement, “This new manufacturing program will have a significant impact for students looking for a career path opportunity. High-tech manufacturing job opportunities are increasing in Anderson County, and students fortunate enough to be in the BHP manufacturing program will have skill sets that will be advantageous for these high-paying jobs.”