The CTC’s Big Push: New programs, a $583,000 grant and expansion for tech center

Demand for skilled trades education has sparked a 10,000 square-foot addition to Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District’s (TBAISD) Career-Tech Center.

According to Principal Pat Lamb, the growth at the Career-Tech Center (CTC) is happening on multiple fronts: The 10,000 square-foot Manufacturing Technology Academy construction project on Parsons Road and new spaces for the popular machining and welding programs.

Three programs currently lease space at Northwestern Michigan College’s Parsons-Stulen building on Aero Park Drive.

The welding program, which is getting an 800 square-foot bump-out, consistently has a waitlist about 30 names deep. Lamb said the CTC has either increased its enrollment or remained steady from year to year. At the start of the 2017 school year, the school had approximately 1,180 students across its 24 programs.

Next fall, with the new expansions finished, Lamb predicts the CTC will hit 1,200 students.

Part of the growth could have to do with local industries, which Lamb says have embraced the CTC mission. In fact, when TBAISD decides to add new programs at the CTC, it’s usually because of the local business community.

“When new programs start up, it’s usually because I get a call from someone in business and industry who says, ‘I’ve got a need, I can’t find people. We’re wondering if you have a program like this, or would consider looking into a program like this,’” Lamb said.

One example is the Front Street Writers program, a partnership with the National Writers Series that started with an advisory committee made up of local authors, journalists, public relations professionals and more.

“All these people sat on this advisory committee and said, ‘You guys have to offer this program. We can’t find kids who can write and communicate. And we need them for careers in the field,’” Lamb said.

More recently, the Career-Tech Center added an insurance program, prompted by the suggestion of local insurance professional Dave Ford of Ford Insurance. Ford approached the CTC, noting tens of thousands of projected job openings in the insurance industry in the next decade and a lack of young professionals to fill them. The insurance careers program at the CTC allows students to graduate high school with 12 college credits, sit for their insurance certifications at 18 and go right to work in the booming industry.

The CTC’s relationship with local businesses also drives several of its programs on a day-to-day basis. For instance, the school’s allied health program has a partnership with Munson that places students in a hospital environment before they even finish high school.

Lamb thinks that the alliances with local businesses have been vital in getting the CTC state and national attention. Recently, the school received grant funding from the Michigan Department of Education. Fourteen grants worth $5 million were given to schools throughout the state. Detroit Public Schools received the largest grant: $800,000. TBAISD received $583,000, which Lamb says is earmarked for new equipment, a precision machining program, and a new mechatronics program.

“Our business and industry partners in manufacturing helped us write [the grant proposal], because they back the Manufacturing Tech program so much and have had such a hard time finding people,” Lamb said. “I think the state saw our relationships with business and industry, and saw that we were investing in new building projects, and they awarded us the second highest amount.”

The grant funding will help ensure that CTC programs have state-of-the-art equipment – another area where the school turns to local businesses for advice.

“If we’re going to spend significant dollars on a plasma cutter for welding, I don’t want to make that call unless I have people from business and industry saying, ‘Your kids could really benefit from this skill,’” Lamb said.

Ultimately, CTC’s focus will be practical learning and hands-on experience, which Lamb says is “vital” in confirming whether a student really wants to pursue a certain type of career … before they spend thousands of dollars on a college degree or a certification program.

CTC students are sent out in the field or study at the school, where there is a full greenhouse for the agriculture program and an in-house restaurant called the World Class Café. There’s even a warehouse attached to the school where students in the construction trades program are building a full-sized house – one that Lamb expects will be donated to Habitat for Humanity upon completion.

English and math skills are also incorporated at the CTC. A construction trades student learning geometry applies those concepts to the process of designing and building a staircase. An auto mechanics student learning English uses those skills to communicate repair needs and costs to vehicle owners.

Based on the anticipated growth, Lamb said he feels like the CTC is “changing” its local reputation from when he started 14 years ago, a time when the center was concerned about enrollment.

“There was a feeling that the CTC was a school for ‘those kids’ that didn’t have the background, the ambition, or the want to go on to college. I think that perception has changed drastically,” he said. “There are campaigns out there – with business and industry dollars backing them – to support what a career in the trades or computer science or IT can offer a student.”

The tight job market and a new parental perspective on what a good job is has helped, too, he said.

“It’s a matter of saying ‘I’m okay if my son’s going to be an electrician or my daughter’s going to be a welder,'” he said. “The backing from industry that says ‘We need people and we have good jobs’ helps with that.”