EQWIP educators tour local business and industry sites

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Photo: Local educators tour the Prince Metal Stampings facility in Gadsden during the EQWIP Industry Tour Day on October 10. (Courtesy of East Alabama Works)

10-13-2022

By Emma Kirkemier, News Editor

On October 10, about 350 local educators piled into buses to tour some of the area’s prominent industry sites during the Etowah Qualified Workforce Immersion Program.

EQWIP is sponsored by the Gadsden/Etowah Chamber of Commerce and East Alabama Works. Attendees hailed from Etowah County, Attalla City and Gadsden City school systems.

“It’s a chance to kind of educate the educators,” said Etowah County Career Technical Education Director Mark Stancil. “We have a lot of educators that went to high school, and then they went to a four-year college to be an educator. Then when they got out of college, they went into education. We’re asking those teachers to prepare students for our workforce in manufacturing and production-type work that they may not be familiar with or may not have ever even seen.”

Stancil said familiarizing teachers with local industry can “better help them understand what we’re preparing students for.”

EQWIP partnered with 10 locations for tours, including Evoke Aviation, Prince Metal Stamping, ZLA Staffing Solutions, Hokes Bluff Welding and Fabrication, Buffalo Rock, Koller Craft, Gadsden Regional Medical Center, Stamp Products Incorporated, Encompass Health Rehabilitation Hospital and The Gadsden Fire Academy.

“They can see what industry is out here and see what the manufacturing workplace looks like,” Stancil said. “Of course, we went to healthcare facilities and some different things as well. So it’s not all manufacturing, but it was a variety of things.”

Attendees of EQWIP then spent toured various tech programs on the Gadsden State Community College campus. The college offers 13 different associate degree programs and numerous certifications within its technical school, as well as dual enrollment opportunities for high schoolers.

“Dual enrollment is a big part of what we do (at the Etowah County Career Technical School), and we do have a tremendous relationship with Gadsden State,” Stancil said.

This year marked the third EQWIP event since the program’s inception in 2018, its annual schedule being interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We set it up for 400 teachers between the three school systems each year,” Stancil said.

He explained that city and county educators have access to the program proportional to their system’s population. Etowah County teachers, for example, subscribe to a sort of “three-year rotation” in which each educator should be able to attend EQWIP every third year.

“We have about 700 or 800 teachers, so it takes a three-year cycle to get all of them through it,” Stancil said. “That’s our goal, is every three years for our teachers to get to be a part of this and to kind of take them on tours.”

EQWIP invites K-12 educators to participate. Stancil said that while kindergarteners are not exactly suiting up for work anytime soon, it is important for elementary school teachers to familiarize their students with a diverse array of careers at a young age.

“Expose them to some career opportunities as they grow in elementary and middle school and start sparking some interest,” Stancil said. “Let them know that there’s a great big world out there and there’s all kinds of opportunities and all kinds of directions you can go.”

According to Stancil, that classroom communication can result in negative impressions if not done accurately.

“Manufacturing isn’t this dark, dreary, dangerous, nasty place,” he said. “These facilities are actually state-of-the-art, 21st century with robotic capabilities and high tech. The teachers need to see that because some of them have a tremendous misconception when they share some of their information. We want to clear some of these misconceptions.”

Etowah County Schools Superintendent Dr. Alan Cosby explained that communicating the possibilities that exist in local industries expands students’ options.

“EQWIP is an outstanding and very worthwhile opportunity for teachers as it allows the education community to witness the workings and opportunities afforded by businesses in our county,” Cosby said. “This allows us to communicate about various post-secondary employment opportunities to our students as well as teach skills that are needed in the workforce. EQWIP is a ‘win-win’ for our school system and business partners.”

Although educating local educators is the goal of East Alabama Works and the Chamber through this program, both organizations aim to nourish private- and public-sector partnerships between local businesses and schools.

“Another goal is to have business and industry in this area that our students feel good about,” Stancil said. “We have too many students that leave here and go to a four-year college and never come back because the opportunities for their career pathway (are not) here.”

However, Stancil said he hopes to “offer some really good opportunities for all of our students somewhere down the road” with the growth of industry partnerships.

While teachers are learning to tailor their classroom communications to real-world applications, businesses are also able to offer input on characteristics that make recent graduates employable.

“If we can get all the stakeholders on the same page with educators and with students and parents and with business and industry, I think we can build a better foundation,” Stancil said.

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