Inside the Next Generation Engineering and Design Firm in Oak Hill, Rachel Peal, Jared Richards and Christopher Lanham are problem-solving how to design a toolkit that would allow artists to easily transport their materials.
As they zeroed in on specific challenges in the engineering design process, the team consulted with local engineers, part of an ongoing process of product development that included collaboration with industry experts and public presentations about their product.
This could be a product design team working in any industrial company anywhere in the world. But there’s something particularly interesting about this particular team.
They are high school students. And their “firm” is actually a classroom.
Rachel, Jared and Christopher are all students of the Fayette Institute of Technology’s (FIT) Simulated Workplace program, designed by the West Virginia Department of Education’s Division of Career Technical Education with the support of state business leaders.
The Simulated Workplace program transforms the typical classroom into an authentic workplace, where students are held to professional standards. Students clock in and out, hold leadership positions, submit to random drug tests and aim to complete a full day of quality work.
The Simulated Workplace program has turned the typical classroom on its head in an effort to increase student engagement and accountability, and respond to industry’s request of the public education sector to graduate more career ready students with portable skills.
Industry and Business Advisory Committees made up of local business and industry leaders oversee each classroom. The committees inspect the workplaces, provide speakers and often invite students to tour their own facilities.
The payoff for the businesses that get involved is a pipeline directly to a source of local employees that they know have the right technical skills, are motivated and reliable.
Many Simulated Workplace students have been offered internships and even full time jobs, as a result.
Currently, 13,000 students across 502 classrooms in West Virginia participate in Simulated Workplace, almost double the 7,200 students that participated last year.
Simulated Workplace students report higher attendance rates, lower discipline rates and lower rates of positive drug testing than the high school average in West Virginia.
With strict requirements for remaining in a Simulated Workplace classroom, 98.4 percent of Simulated Workplace participants are drug free.
At the West Virginia Department of Education’s Simulated Workplace Conference held in Charleston this June, students and teachers alike raved about the initiative. Teachers agree that students tend to take more ownership of their studies in nontraditional classrooms, as they feel more in control, and more responsible for what takes place.
And students of the program clamored about the sense of pride they feel at the helm of an industry inspired workplace.
Back in Oak Hill, Rachel, Jared and Christopher are celebrating, after winning the Engineering Technology and Design component of the SkillsUSA West Virginia competition, which recognizes excellent career and technical education students. Their win took them to Kentucky, to compete in the national SkillsUSA championship.
More importantly, with local engineering firms looking on intently, it may also have opened the door for them to a fulfilling career here in West Virginia.