In February, we recognized Career & Technical Education (CTE) month. Our Trustees and District leaders heard about the positive impact CTE programs of study have on our students – ALL students. We saw improved graduation rates for students who took 2 or more CTE classes and were reminded that today’s CTE is not the old “vocational education.” It IS student centered, innovative, inquiry-based and provides authentic opportunities to master high-level academic and technical knowledge. It prepares students for college, career and everything in between.
To celebrate, I visited a long-time Reno company, Gyford Standoff Systems, to better understand how our work as educators helps prepare graduates for fulfilling careers. I also wanted to know what we can do better, as a District, to prepare our students for success in the professional world since they will spend the bulk of their lives after graduation navigating their career path.
Gyford is the largest US manufacturer of standoffs and is celebrating their 30th anniversary this year. The privately owned company was started in Reno by Steve and Valerie Gyford who still oversee the daily operations. They have 48 full time employees and conduct all their own processes in-house – from product development, manufacturing, and displays to IT support, graphic design, marketing, and client relations. If you’re not sure what a standoff is (I wasn’t), you can see some examples of these clever hardware items here.
During my tour, I met many graduates from our WCSD schools. Four recent graduates from the Academy for Career Education (ACE), a district-sponsored CTE charter school, explained to me how important science and math are to the manufacturing process. Chad, Jared, Jestin and Michael, along with their supervisors, taught me about the properties of aluminum; how to use trigonometry to program different machines, including a 9-axis computerized lathe; and translated complex computer code to help me understand what each machine was doing. These boys each had a story of overcoming personal and academic adversity by engaging in CTE programs that interested them, helped them understand the value and application of the academics they were learning, and connected them with a career path that includes continuing to take classes to earn their college degree.
I also had a great conversation with two former graduates from North Valleys, Reina (2004) and Jennifer (2013) who both work in quality inspection – a job that requires use of precision tools, attention to detail, and ability to justify decision-making. Jennifer shared her struggles to pass proficiency exams to earn her diploma and why the support she received from her teachers made all the difference. Her sister, Reina, remember that she worked full-time while going to high school and that it was her English teacher, Mrs. Archuletta, inspired her to stay focused and graduate. She is a single mom to an 8-year old son and wanted me to know that she is determined that he will find success in school becasue “without a diploma, you’re really nothing.”
The Gyford Management team – Cynthia (HR), George (manufacturing) – was so enthusiastic about the graduates they’ve hired. They told me they are always on the lookout for the right people at every career fair and school event they attend. They want team members with the right attributes and attitude, things like coming to work on time, communicating (two-way, speaking AND listening), taking initiative and feedback, solving unexpected problems and persevering – “If you have a setback, you don’t run away,” they told me. These are the basic skills that get them in the door. Once hired, new employees must be willing and able to learn about the company format, their language and their expectations. Fortunately for our recent graduates, the Gyford team recognizes they are young and need support to grow into their roles as great employees!
Gyford also places a lot of value on being a team, expecting each member to understand the whole organization and how each part fits. “They tend to be very compartmentalized when they come to us,” Cynthia said. To help them see the big picture, all new employees spend two weeks working their way through experiences in every department before starting on the job they were hired. This way, they can see how their job decisions, performance and outcomes impact the other areas of business. It also helps them assume the best when challenges arise.
I was most impressed with the family atmosphere at Gyford and how each person felt they were a valued part of the system. This was echoed as employees reflected on their positive experiences in WCSD that helped prepare them for success. While they noted the importance of the knowledge and skills they learned, each one was excited to tell me about someone in their school who cared enough to make sure they graduated and helped them find a path to their next step in life.
As we make our way toward the end of the school year, I encourage you to connect with your students and ask them what kind of career they are interested in, what steps they are taking now to help prepare them and what education, experience or certifications they will need to have. And help them explore the abundant opportunities in our community that continue to expand every day.
Many thanks to my friends at Gyford Standoff Systems for sharing their time, thoughts and suggestions with me.