Botetourt schools’ CTE Coordinator Mike Ketron (left) and Botetourt Technical Education Center Principal Shaun Sparks during their presentation to the Botetourt Chamber of Commerce last week. Photo by Ed McCoy

Some members of the Botetourt County Chamber of Commerce were a bit surprised at the mix of programs that Botetourt Technical Education Center (BTEC) now offers during a lunch meeting last week at Ballast Point Brewery.

BTEC’s new principal Shaun Sparks and its old principal and now the school division’s Career and Technical Education (CTE) Coordinator Mike Ketron used their presentation to the chamber members as an opportunity to pitch the opportunities the school’s programs and local businesses can benefit from together.

“We need to know what you need,” Ketron told the chamber members. That, he said, was so the school division can tailor classes that have real-world meaning to students. “Connecting students with the opportunities in our community is for their futures,” Sparks said. Sparks said partnering with businesses is how they as educators know what kinds of jobs are available. “We try to use real world examples,” Ketron continued. “We have industry show us their process so we can replicate that process” in the classroom. Ketron explained that BTEC has been successful in connecting students with local industry in some of the traditional CTE fields such as welding, auto mechanics, auto body, health sciences and cosmetology; but he noted there are many more programs the school division offers that don’t get as much publicity.

As an example, he pointed to the cyber security program at BTEC. He called those students “brilliant,” and noted that after going into that classroom, students actually “hacked” his cell phone before he left. “We have to show there are viable employment options in the community, but someone has to tell us,” Ketron said. As an aside, he said some CTE graduates are proving there’s a change in the mindset about education. “You don’t have to go to college anymore for a successful career.” Another example he gave is BTEC’s aerospace program. The school is trying to get approval to provide certification in drone licensing.

He asked the chamber members what field was providing the most drone jobs. The answer, he said, “Real estate is the number 1 hire for drone licenses.” Those kinds of licensings or certifications are what the school division wants to provide, Sparks said. Not just “a certification”, but an certification that’s recognized by industry. The two educators said it’s important for them to know what kind of certifications companies want their employees to have so those are the ones the school division can offer students. Sparks noted that working with employers in the building trades has led BTEC to work on adding more certifications in those fields.

Ketron said engineering students are able to get real world experience in design, then work with other students on having the designs cut out on the BTEC’s plasma cutter, then installed on a machine. That combination of problem solving is at the heart of the mechatronics program the school division is starting in January. Ketron said 14 students are enrolled in the mechatronics program. Ketron and Sparks reviewed the 14 CTE programs the school division offers. They include the Aerospace Technology, Auto Body Technology, Auto Service Technology, Building Trades (masonry, carpentry, electricity, plumbing), Computer Systems Technology, Cosmetology, Criminal Justice, Cybersecurity, Engineering, Information Systems Technology, Mechatronics, Nurse Aide, Veterinary Technology and Welding. Both encouraged business people to contact them about needs they may have to learn how the CTE programs can work for them.