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Students want homework in this new program at West Hall High School
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Hall County Schools Superintendent Will Schofield tours the new West Hall High School manufacturing lab Monday, Oct. 26, 2020, as school board members visit the new shop. - photo by Scott Rogers

Scott Reed doesn’t give homework, but his students in West Hall High School’s new manufacturing lab are craving it anyway. 

“If they want to do something that bad, as a teacher, you got to reach out to them,” he said. 

The student excitement surrounds the new $1 million lab, with its 3-D printers and other equipment that moves students from the drafting table to hands-on, real-world manufacturing experiences. 

“Eighty percent of my kids want to get out here and put their hands on something,” Reed said during a tour of the lab Monday, Oct. 26. “They just want to work. They’ll draw it, they’ll measure it and they’ll bust their tail to make sure they got it right.” 

He said that instead of giving homework, he urges students: “Tell your parents what you're doing in my class ... talk to them and show them what you’re doing, get your family involved with it.” 

The program began this school year, as much as possible under COVID-19 precautions, such as mask wearing and social distance, with about 100 students.  

Students are learning “Foundations of Manufacturing & Materials Science” in the first year of a three-year curriculum. The second year will be “Robotics & Automated Systems,” with robotic equipment expected to arrive at the school in February, and “Production Enterprises” in the third year.  

Many students will wind up in the workplace and/or furthering their education at a technical school. 

The program had its start in trying to determine what to do with some available space at the campus at 5500 McEver Road

“We had room to start one more program here,” principal Ley Hathcock said.  

Several hands-on options were considered, including welding and auto mechanics, when officials settled on manufacturing. When companies were queried about the effort, they said they wanted workers with communication skills but also “some kind of inkling of how manufacturing really works,” the principal said. 

“This will give kids practical experience they can take straight into the workplace,” said Craig Herrington, Hall County Board of Education chairman. “The technology that the manufacturing industry uses now Is way above what the average student would get … and all the manufacturers are needing people with those skills.” 

Companies are demanding workers even through the pandemic, but there was a real workers shortage before the virus hit.  

Tim Evans, vice president of economic development for the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce, said in September 2019 that the number of jobs had grown faster than the number of people entering the workforce, with much of the growth in health care, advanced manufacturing, logistics, construction and services. 

The unemployment rate was 2.9% at the time. With businesses shutting down earlier this year, it jumped as high as 10.7% in April. With the economy rebounding, the rate had fallen to 4% in September. 

With manufacturing making up 30% of Hall’s workers, Greg Vitek, partner at Workforce Strategies Group LLC said West Hall’s program is much needed. 

“With a teacher like this and technology like this, we’ll generate what industry is looking for,” he said. 

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