BRISTOL, Va. — Virginia High School senior Ethan Fuller enrolled in a manufacturing class because of the instructor, but he and four classmates toured their potential future employer Wednesday.

The class is the first directly linked to local electrical components maker Electro-Mechanical Corp., and all its members are working toward becoming a certified production technician — a status that represents extensive training and opens the door to employment.

“I only took the class because of Mr. [Aaron] Hurd — he’s a great teacher. But then this seems like a really valid career choice,” Fuller said while the class toured the Federal Pacific production plant — one of four companies owned by Electro-Mechanical. “So now I’m really interested in it, and I’m thinking about working here — more than likely I want to work here. Even then, I could use this as a launching point to go on to college.”

Fuller and his classmates have completed the safety awareness portion of the certificate and are now working toward completing training in manufacturing processes and production, quality practices and measurement and maintenance awareness.

This initial exposure, he said, made him much more aware of safe practices, even around home.

In addition to an in-depth guided tour from the plant manager, the students also heard about job opportunities and employee expectations from human relations personnel.

The program began with a 2017 discussion between Mike Stollings, the company’s vice president of human relations, and school Superintendent Keith Perrigan.

“When we sat down with Mike and his team, he let us know they were looking for people who had the CPT credential. We found out we could offer that, but we had to change our curriculum,” Perrigan said. “We changed our curriculum, changed the credentialing test, and now we have this partnership that allows our students to take the class, and, if they pass the credentialing test, Electro-Mechanical has guaranteed them a job right out of high school.”

The program helps students prepare for the workforce and offers employment opportunities that keep people living in the community, Perrigan said.

“This is a great opportunity and partnership. Hopefully, we’ll have more kids in the class next year and continue to move forward. I think when this first group goes through and kids see what a great opportunity this is, I think our rolls will increase, we’ll have more kids leaving with that credential,” the superintendent said.

The certificate sends a clear message to prospective employers that the holder is better prepared to begin work, Stollings said.

“That means they can walk into an employer — hopefully, they’ll come to Electro-Mechanical — and that says they’re committed,” Stollings said. “And it says they should have a high level of awareness of what they’re going to experience. They’ll understand the importance of safety, how production processes work, the importance of maintenance.”

The company employs about 500 across its four facilities in Bristol, Virginia. About 150 work at Federal Pacific making dry type electric transformers and pad-mounted electric switch gears. They previously worked with Tennessee High School on a similar, less robust initiative.

Stollings said school officials have become “great partners.”

“We’re willing to do this for all of the employers in our area. We’re offering the cybersecurity in agriculture and hydroponics class so we can provide employees to the CBD oil manufacturer, and we’re working on a partnership with American Merchant,” Perrigan said. “Our job is to get some of our kids ready for a four-year college, some for a two-year college and some to go directly into the workforce.”

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