From arming camp instructors with blacksmithing skills to connecting electrical apprentices with local construction projects, a new grant will enable the college’s Occupational and Skilled Trades (OST) program to expand its reach across the state. A-B Tech’s OST program won the National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship’s (NACCE) 2023 Pitch for the Skilled Trades Competition at the Nashville conference on October 29-November 1. The college was one of five community colleges nationwide to win a portion of an annual $150, 000 grant sponsored by the Philip E. and Carole R. Ratcliffe Foundation.
OST Coordinator Carol Faust explained that she and assistant coordinator Holy Faust wrote a proposal earlier this year that earned the college a spot among sixteen semifinalists who then had to prepare a three-minute Zoom pitch on what they would do with the money. OST’s pitch was for a Mobile Trades Academy, a trailer used to bring trades like blacksmithing, welding, and woodworking to students across the state who otherwise wouldn’t be able to reach them.
NACCE’s criteria required proving the program would boost the economy with jobs created, employment obtained, and income earned. A-B Tech’s presentation was chosen, along with six others who went to the competition to present their pitch onstage before a panel of judges and 400 attendees from community colleges across the country.
Faust said she believes A-B Tech won the competition in part because the pitch was well-researched and planned. “We’d already secured organizations who wanted us to bring them skills,” she said, citing Habitat for Humanity where students will assist workers with on-site electrical wiring. The Mobile Trades Academy pitch also cited the Carolinas AGC Construction Bootcamp where A-B Tech will help bring free trades classes to community colleges across the state.
Having the Mobile Trades Academy will greatly expand A-B Tech’s OST program’s reach. “Currently we just offer welding and blacksmithing up in Madison,” Faust pointed out. “Now we will have equipment to bring those to other locations all across Buncombe and Madison Counties. We can also do specialized classes for companies,” she added.
The grant will go toward the purchase of a 16-foot contractor trailer that will house equipment including carts, cabinets for storage, and hands-on training materials such as a gas forge and anvil for blacksmithing. What the trailer won’t have, Faust said, are tables and chairs. Hands-on outdoor classes will be conducted under a tent or awning.
Faust said she hopes to have the Mobile Trades Academy up and running by spring when it will offer the Carolinas AGC Construction Bootcamp, as well as blacksmithing training and an electrical apprenticeship at Habitat for Humanity’s worksites.
Beyond winning the grant, Faust said the conference provided another great payoff: The chance to talk to other educators across the country. After hearing other skilled trades specialists talk about their entrepreneurially rich programs, Faust said she’d like to incorporate business classes into A-B Tech’s program.
Aside from the occasional business talk, she said, there are currently no curriculum classes in the OTC program. “You think of electricians and construction, and you don’t always think of them as entrepreneurs, but they are; They go into business for themselves,” she pointed out. “There’s a lot more opportunity to incorporate business into the curriculum.”