West Georgia Tech and other technical colleges prepare for electric vehicle future

Published 9:00 am Wednesday, September 27, 2023

As electric vehicles are seeing a bigger and bigger portion of car manufacturing, educators are trying to keep ahead by ensuring that a trained workforce is available to meet demand.

The Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG) held an electric vehicle roundtable discussion at the West Georgia Technical College LaGrange campus on Tuesday.

The roundtable was held to discuss and hear from industry professionals about what their companies need from TCSG. The event was the third of four regional listening sessions across Georgia, where the college listened to business partners to hear about the future of manufacturing, said Dr. Ray Perren, Deputy Commissioner for Technical Education.

Several industry representatives spoke during the event including Kia Georgia, FREYER Battery, Hyundai-Transis and Georgia Power.

Curriculum Program Specialist Mike Howard said that the EV manufacturing landscape in Georgia is booming. He noted that since 2020, $21 billion has been invested in electric vehicle projects creating 26,700 jobs.

“Not all those jobs are going to come through the TCSG  colleges, but a lot of them will so there’s potential for a lot of students on our campuses,” Howard said. “When you have that many students or a large number of students potentially coming to your campus, that creates a few roadblocks.”

A couple of the roadblocks are student recruitment and space. Howard said that they have got to do better with student recruitment and making sure they have the lab space and the equipment they need for the jobs of future manufacturing, along with faculty to instruct the students.

TCSG plans on increasing student recruitment through its dual enrolment and dual achievement plans as well as apprenticeship programs.

Lauren Edgar, Dual Achievement Program Director, explained that the relatively new Dual Achievement Program, which is in its second year, is for students where traditional high school is just not a good fit.

She said they have over 600 students participating in the program, which allows the students to work for local industries while earning a high school diploma.

Edgar said that the Dual Achievement program allows students to attend high schools within technical colleges. 

“We have never operated as a high school before, and we’ve never had the opportunity to award high school diplomas but that is what the Dual Achievement Program allows us to do. We have five high school academies across the state,” Edgar said.

Under the program, the technical colleges can operate as a high school. Students can leave and transfer out of their traditional base high school and go to the technical college and attend high school at a technical college.

Edgar said another of their secondary education initiatives is College and Career Academies, which provide partnerships between the local school system, specifically high schools, and the local technical college and the local business industry. College and career academies, like THINC in Troup County, are specifically driven by industry.

“If you are not familiar with the College and Career Academies in your community, I really encourage you to get to know them and potentially serve on their board because they are very industry-driven. The curriculum that we put out, the job skills that we want our graduates to have are specifically focused on what you all say as our industry partners are the skills that our students need to have,” Edgar told the manufacturing representatives.

There are 54 active college and career academies that serve over 50,000 students throughout Georgia, Edgar said.

Edgar explained that traditional dual enrollment is probably the program that most are familiar with, where students take post-secondary classes while they attend high school.

“About half of our students do take traditional general education courses that they will then apply for going for a bachelor’s degree. The other half do take technical courses so they are working toward technical certificates,” Edgar said. “Those courses teach them the skills that they can then once they graduate from high school and immediately go into the workforce.”

Students in traditional dual enrollment are still on a regular path toward high school graduation, but there is another way that students can participate in dual enrollment through what the TCSG’s Accelerated Career Program or the Accelerated Career Diploma. 

“With a traditional high school diploma, students have to have 23 credits in the State of Georgia to graduate from high school with an accelerated career the students only have to have nine required high school credits,” Edgar said.

“The trade-off is that they have to earn some college credentials. That’s the key. So less high school, more college,” she said.

“The nice thing about accelerated career is again, it’s a good fit for students where traditional high school is not for them. They do not see the need to take chemistry, calculus and American literature. They are a technically-minded student who wants to get into the workforce. This is a good way to allow them to take fewer high school courses that may not be a good fit for them and focus more on the college courses that are going to get them a career in manufacturing or whatever technical area that they are interested in,” Edgar said.