A program that gets started this month at Limestone County Career Technical Center — and is expected to reach the county’s other six high schools next fall — is aimed at seniors who don’t have a plan for what they’ll do after high school.

“We’re targeting seniors who are not quite sure what next year will look like,” said John Wilson, a director at the tech center. “We’re offering five classes of the program, with 12 seniors in each class.”

The Ready to Work program will last 18 weeks and graduates will receive certifications that would be valuable in a job search — the Alabama Certified Work Certificate from the Alabama Industrial Development Training and the ACT National Career Readiness Certificate.

“It’s an awesome program,” Wilson said. “We were already wanting to implement it” when the tech center was approached in September by representatives from the Alabama Automotive Manufacturing Association and Mazda Toyota Manufacturing about launching the program at the tech center and other county high schools, Wilson said.

Mazda Toyota is expected to start production this year at its automotive plant in the Greenbrier area of Limestone County, and ultimately will build about 300,000 vehicles a year. The company plans to hire about 4,000 employees, around 3,000 of those in production.

Alabama’s Ready to Work program, operated by the Alabama Community College System in cooperation with AIDT, provides people with limited education and employment experience with entry-level skills required for employment with most businesses and industries in the state. It’s now available on the high school level.

“What I liked about this program is that it looks at seniors that don’t really have a path,” either for college or a job after graduation, said Limestone County Schools Superintendent Randy Shearouse. In talking to high school principals, he discovered the number of students in this category ranges from 20 at a small high school to 40 at a larger one.

“I think (the program) has some merit,” with an “80% to 90% success rate in placing students after high school,” Shearouse said.

The Morgan County Ready to Work program is in its third year, and serves about 20 seniors.

“Thus far we have had five seniors complete the program, but due to COVID we were unable to complete the program last school year,” said Brooke Hudson, Jobs for Alabama’s Graduates specialist at Morgan County Schools Technology Park.

She said the program gives its participants an advantage as they seek employment.

“The Ready to Work program provides trainees entry-level skills in demand from local businesses,” Hudson said. “The program also aims to partner individuals with companies to create a pipeline into the workforce. Students who complete the program can also designate this achievement on their resumes and applications.”

A Ready to Work program will start this month, involving 10 seniors, at Athens High School. “We’ll prepare students with the entry-level skills they will need for employment upon graduation,” said Gia Russell, who handles career technical education for Athens City Schools.

Wilson said components of the Limestone County program include industry-based training, which the career center already offers in its 21 programs, and soft skills training. The seniors who will take part in Ready to Work have already received industry-based training for the last three years at the tech center, according to Wilson.

Ready to Work also provides tours of work sites, interview training and on-site employment interviews.

Certification requirements include a 95% attendance and punctuality rate for trainees, 70% or higher grade on required assignments and successful completion of ACT WorkKeys assessments with Level 3 or higher. Those assessments are standardized tests that measure work readiness skills like applied mathematics and reading for information.

The industry tracks in Limestone County’s program aren’t limited to automotive, but include health care, logistics, hospitality and construction.

School officials are still working out the logistics of expanding the program to the other county schools.

“We’ll be identifying Ready to Work instructors at each school,” Wilson said.

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marian.accardi@decaturdaily.com or 256-340-2438. Twitter @DD_MAccardi.

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