Coding Grant Helps North Carolina Students Explore In-Demand Career Options

Written by Timm Boettcher – Realityworks President and CEO

In Beaufort County, North Carolina, programmers are in high demand. Job forecasts conducted by local workforce development boards show a 94% growth rate for programming jobs among 27 eastern NC counties from 2016-2021; programming skills, along with tooling, machine and drone operation skills, have been among the most in-demand job skills listed by local and regional manufacturing businesses for three straight years.

When Beaufort County Schools (BCS) saw an opportunity to fund an extension of the district’s coding program into K-12 classrooms across the district and at the local community college, administrators didn’t hesitate to apply. Last fall, North Carolina Superintendent Mark Johnson announced that 16 school districts, including Beaufort County, had been awarded grants totaling $800,000 through the second round of the Coding and Mobile App Development Grant Program, which was launched in 2017 with funding from the state’s general assembly.

“BCS’s strategic STEM plan, the use of Digital Learning Competencies training, and the injection of real-world needs provided through our advisory process and partnerships with our local industries produced the perfect conditions for synergy around STEM including coding,” said Wendy Petteway, BCS Career and Technical Education Department Director. “We needed to expand beyond where we were and extend coding into K-12 across the district and at Beaufort County Community College, and the coding grant has provided the opportunity for that expansion.”

Click here to read the entire article, which was originally posted in ACTE’s IndustryConnect blog in March 2019. 

5 Takeaways from “Why VR Works: A Panel Discussion”

We recently hosted a panel discussion about why virtual reality welding works for today’s CTE students. Featuring Realityworks RealCareer Product Manager Jamey McIntosh, Realityworks Support Specialist and guideWELD® trainer Chris Potapenko and Arizona welding instructor Kenton Webb, the webinar featured candid conversations about how instructors across the country are implementing this technology into their programs and using it to engage students, foster skill development, boost confidence and save money.

Below are excerpts from the live presentation (watch the complete recording here).

1. It’s a great tool to use with beginning classes

“I’ve found it best to start off with my beginning level classes where a lot of those kids have never welded before so they don’t know the difference in between live and virtual. It’s definitely helped them as they’ve started off with something harder and then when they get out into the shop it’s a lot easier for them when it comes to the live application of it. It also helps them build their confidence. Sometimes welding equipment is terrifying to kids and they’re scared of the sparks and the heat and the fire.”
– Kenton Webb, Welding Instructor, Marana High School, AZ

“It’s a great tool and utility to bring in new students to get them started with the basics of welding. It eliminates some of the fear factors that go into getting them out on the real machine where they’re dealing with the heat, the sparks, the fumes. It’s a great resource to have in that safe classroom environment, it’s going to teach them all of the core functions of welding and give them that immediate feedback as well that they’re looking for.”
– Chris Potapenko, Realityworks Support Specialist and certified guideWELD® trainer

2. The guideWELD® VR welding simulator by Realityworks comes with WPS’s (Welding Procedure Specifications) and the ability to make your own WPS’s, to gear it towards your own curriculum.

“I’ve created 9 separate WPS’s that the students have to go through and hit at an 80% or higher before they can move on to the next WPS,” said Webb. “Once they’ve finished and hit that mark in the classroom then I also have the guideWELD Live and they go out and use those with the actual hands-on weld.”
– Kenton Webb, Welding Instructor, Marana High School, AZ

“Being able to create your own welds that your community might be doing. We have schools that say, ‘just down the road we have welding jobs open, I want my students to be able to get those welding jobs, and I want my students to be able to practice those kinds of welds.’ They can put into guideWELD VR the exact parameters that they need to do. It ties in that career interest.”
– Jamey McIntosh, Realityworks RealCareer Product Manager

3. Virtual welding can improve learning for students

“Because they do get immediate feedback and they can actually see what they’re doing wrong immediately as they’re going through the weld that definitely helps them. Even with my special education students, it gives them more feedback that they need and gets them more comfortable using it before they go out and use the real thing. It covers your basic work angles, travel angles, distance and all of that so when I’m using that terminology out in the shop it’s not going over their head because they’ve been introduced to it.”
– Kenton Webb, Welding Instructor, Marana High School, AZ

4. Virtual welding can save your program money, and guideWELD VR will help prove how much you are saving

“I was able to go and figure out, ok this is what I would pay for the steel, if I was doing these joints this is what it would cost per joint. So, I was able to see, each class by the time they were done with the 9 modules, and it counts every attempt that they do whether they pass it or fail it, so there were some of my classes that if they were out in the shop they would have burned through $800 worth of material and that’s not even including the gas and wire, nozzles and tips that they would have burned through learning how to do it on the live thing. It definitely helps educators justify the cost for it, in terms of down the road this is saving us money and for some of those programs that don’t have funding for unlimited metals and stuff like that it gives them a little more time to start them off in the class but then still not worry about running through all of their material before the end of the year.”
– Kenton Webb, Welding Instructor, Marana High School, AZ

5. Students love the gaming aspect of virtual welding

“With kids being more tech savvy and gamer savvy, they really do enjoy doing it because they are coming to school to play a game so you are getting a little bit more buy in and interest as well. Another thing I noticed is some of them will turn it into a competition where they see one kid get a 95 then the other kids are ‘oh I can do better’ and they are going back for more and trying to beat each other with a little competition.”
– Kenton Webb, Welding Instructor, Marana High School, AZ

These responses were extracted from our webinar, “Why VR Works: A Panel Discussion,” which can be found here or viewed below. This discussion was facilitated by Kenton Webb, welding instructor from Marana High School, Tucsun, AZ; Jamey McIntosh, product manager for Realityworks; and Chris Potapenko, technology support specialist for Realityworks.

Finding Inspiration

By Diane Ross, M.Ed., Realityworks Senior Field Account Manager for NC, SC, VA, WV

I attended the NC WORKS Conference last month and walked away truly inspired.  I work in sales for Realityworks and keeping a pipeline of customers is essential for company survival.  Inspiration comes from seeing students become successful in life as a result of our products.

NC WORKS is not really focused on just finding jobs for people, but that is a GOOD thing.  They are focused on preparing people for well-paying careers and they have a great plan in place.  The pipeline starts with Career and Technical Education Directors looking at middle school, where kids explore careers suited to their intellect, their interest and their lifestyles.  That pipeline extends to high school, where students begin to make career choices, such as healthcare, or welding, or electrical trades, for instance.

Students choose a life career pathway that leads them to a certification, such as Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA).  But, the NC WORKS group does not want the student to stop there.  They want the student to get that certification as a step into post-secondary, where the community college might take the student from CNA into an allied health field, such as respiratory therapy.

The goal is to get a student highly skilled so that they can best support themselves (salary) in their communities. That salary amount depends on where they choose to live, such as the higher end for areas like Charlotte and maybe less for more rural areas.

The bottom line here is the planning that goes into making sure we are pointing students toward careers that will allow them to live and prosper, create and support their families and be productive citizens.

The good news is that the products that my company is offering align directly in the pathways laid out by the NC WORKS commission.  Our products allow students to experience workplace skills, such as geriatric nursing, welding or electrical trades in a safe environment and allows a student to find out early if they are well-suited for this line of profession.  That makes me feel good.

This is a big charge to take on especially with and this month’s proposed Presidential Budget.  It is aimed at cutting Career and Technical Education funding by a national average of 15%, this certainly won’t help this initiative.  In North Carolina alone, according to ACTE, the state could lose 28% of federal funding under the President’s proposed budget.

Let’s hope they keep working on that budget and keep education in focus.

Perkins Act Reauthorization: A Reminder to Continue Advocating

By Timmothy Boettcher, President and CEO of Realityworks, Inc.

2015 ACTE Business Leader of the Year

The U.S. is on a path towards realizing how important Career and Technical Education (CTE) is in this country, and on June 28, Congress took an important step to ensure that journey continues: It announced a bill to reauthorize the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act.

Sponsored by Reps. Glenn Thompson (R-PA) and Katherine Clark (D-MA), the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act is the first comprehensive reauthorization of the Perkins Act to be considered by Congress since 2006. It’s the result of efforts by educators, business leaders, legislators and organizations to ensure that schools can equip students with the academic, technical and job-related skills they need to succeed and keep our country’s workforce competitive. It is spectacular to see those efforts coming to fruition.

Such efforts are the only way to keep support for CTE moving forward. With regular, consistent advocacy, educators and business leaders can connect. They can collaborate to develop programs that will properly prepare our future workforce – programs that match curricula to industry requirements, combine core academics with employability and technical skills and prepare students to be college- and career-ready. As Acting U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King. Jr. recently stated, “Every job that leads to a secure future requires critical thinking, problem solving and creativity.” CTE programs provide students with those skills.

That’s why the Industry Workforce Needs Coalition (IWNC), which I chair, continues to foster partnerships between education and industry while advocating for increased funding on federal, state and local levels. It’s why the IWNC collaborated with the Association for Career & Technical Education and Opportunity America to help organize a Congressional staff briefing earlier this year on CTE from an employer perspective. And it’s why more work is needed to ensure that our workforce is properly prepared for the future.

This bill seeks to reform several aspects of the Perkins Act to reflect the challenges facing students and workers today. Highlights of the bill include improved alignment between education and workforce development laws, which will drive program congruency. It also simplifies the process through which educators can access CTE funding by lessening bureaucratic requirements and expanding state control.

The educators, business leaders, legislators and organizations who have worked so hard to make this reauthorization bill a reality deserve sincere appreciation. Strengthened CTE legislation is absolutely needed in this country to ensure our workforce is prepared for the future. However, we need to stay focused on ensuring the availability of CTE programs for all students. We need to work to ensure that those programs align with industry standards and incorporate core academics along with job-related skills so that today’s students are prepared for success in the 21st Century workforce. Let’s take this opportunity to continue advocating in support of the economically critical educational opportunities that CTE programs provide.

In addition to presiding over Realityworks, Inc., Timm chairs the IWNC, a group created by American business leaders to increase the population of skilled workers in the US through better alignment between the educational system and industry. Timm was also named ACTE’s 2015 Business Leader of the Year for his sustained commitment to improving CTE and the connection needed between the workforce development, economic development, and education systems.