Learning the tools of in-demand trades (Warwick Beacon)

By Ethan Hartley

Most of the time if you think about teenagers being in class over the summer, you may conjure images of half-comatose delinquents flinging gum at each other while a disinterested teacher knits at the front of the room waiting for the bell to ring.

But in Warwick at the Career and Tech Center, 14- and 15-year-old students enrolled in CISCO networking and marine trades programs are laughing, smiling and learning valuable trade skills that could serve them very well as they move into their futures. Their instructors are excited about working hard over the summer too, and “work” is the correct term for what the students are doing.

While Elizabeth Charette helps her class of 10 learn about network systems by, first, tearing apart computers and learning how the various components work and, later, learning how to design their own peer-to-peer networks and ethernet cables, marine trades instructor Chris Bianco dons a welding helmet and watches his students melt molten metal into a pre-conceived design of their choosing.

“These kids are incredibly adept at what they’re doing,” Bianco said of the class. “They’re polite, they’re hardworking, they listen – they are exactly the type of kids we hope we can recruit for the Career and Tech Center.”

The programs, available to 20 teens from various communities in the state through a partnership with Comprehensive Community Action Plan (CCAP) and a $28,000 grant through the Governor’s Workforce Board, rotate with 10 students for 16 hours a week, four hours a day Monday through Thursday (with Fridays spent at CCAP) for 10 days in each program.

The goal in each program is to get teenagers acquainted with a skilled trade they likely never considered and to show them the potential value found within tech-related careers. The network program provides avenues towards careers in IT, systems administration and computer networks, while the marine trade program has a close connection with Electric Boat. In addition to the experience, the students are compensated for their summer work.

Even if the students don’t wind up attending the Career and Tech Center, Bianco said they would still have learned some skills they can keep with them for a lifetime. Bianco’s class also featured a good number of girls in addition to the boys, which he said was encouraging.

“In every class, the girls are just as good as the boys,” he said, adding that more girls in the field often gets the best out of the boys as well, since they don’t want to be outworked and shown up by a female. “If they can do the work, it doesn’t matter [what their gender is],” he continued. “All I tell them is that I’m only looking for progress…and they all understand that.”

This is the first summer in many years that Warwick has been able to host summer vocational programming such as these two courses. The enthusiasm from the students was hard to deny, especially from those from places where no technical education opportunities exist.

“It only makes sense that we should be able to offer something like this,” said Career and Tech Center Director Bill McCaffrey.

Meg Geoghegan