Valley Kiwanis Club learns about Career Tech

Published 7:05 pm Thursday, January 17, 2019

VALLEY — Ken Sealy, the director of the Chambers County Career Technical Center, has been trying to get the word out through local civic clubs of the educational opportunities available at Career Tech. On Wednesday of this week he was at the Kiwanis Club of Valley and had two instructors talking about the CTC’s integrated manufacturing program.

Sealy has been discussing the theme that “trade school ain’t what it used to be.” The Chambers County CTC is a great place to learn employable skills that can lead to good paying jobs when you’re still young, he maintains. Local high school students are getting the message. Enrollment at the CTC has grown from just over 200 students five years ago to more than 530 today.

Instructors Seth Stehouwer and Tim Blanks talked about the skills their students are learning in the classroom. Early on, they are studying engineering, electronics and precision machining. They are developing problem-solving opportunities that allow them to put into practice what they are learning in class.

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A signature program at the CTC is racing. The students design, build and race electric cars. Last year, the Chambers County racing team placed sixth out of 225 teams.

The top five were from Huntsville, and no doubt got plenty of help from NASA scientists. The local team placed in the top ten at an international STEM competition in New York state.

Five of the top ten teams were from China.

“The manufacturing programs we have at the CTC are great for the community,” Blanks said. “We have heard companies say they can’t expand because they don’t have the maintenance people they need. When Hyundai came to Alabama they had to go out of state to find them.”

Blanks is teaching his students to work with programmable logic controllers, or PLCs. “Every manufacturing plant has them, and it is extremely important to maintain them. Career tech is ideal for anyone who wants to go into engineering.”

There’s great demand in industry for trained people who know how to get things going again quickly after a breakdown. Those who can do this get paid very well.

“They can make $30 an hour,” Blanks said. “They will be making more than those who trained them. You have to know how everything works together.”

“We are all about work at the Career Tech Center,” said Sealy. “We want our students to have good jobs at the end of all they do. We put kids in their interest area with as much as we can offer.”

Stehouwer drew a contrast between what was once done in vocational school and what’s done now in career tech.

“In vocational tech you would build a wall, tear it down, build it back again, tear it down and build it back until you got very good at it,” he said. “Career tech is not like that. Every problem is different, and there are different ways to figure them out.

“You have to figure out logically, with every single step you take, of why you did what you did. It’s a sequence of events,” Blanks said.

Career Tech isn’t just for high school students. There are courses for adults, too. One example is a carpentry class.

“When I’m out in the community I’m approached all the time by people who need carpenters,” he said.

This is now being addressed with a basic residential carpenter program.

This will be offered this spring thanks to a partnership between the Chambers County Board of Education and the Alabama Home Builders Foundation. It’s a free, eight-week course to be offered to adult learners who want to learn basic skills in the residential carpentry field. The class will meet from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. CST on Mondays and Wednesdays. It starts on March 4 and concludes April 29.

There’s a limit of 15 students per class. For information, call 1-800-745-4222 or email:

“We need people to sign up for this class,” Stehouwer said, adding that he once taught a group of seven women how to build a deck.

Students from Valley, Lanett and LaFayette high schools take classes each school day at Career Tech. Students from the middle schools, Five Points Junior High, Lanett Junior High and Chambers Academy also take classes there. Every school day there’s lots of buses on Highway 50 taking students to and from the CTC. For many, it’s a jump start to college. There are articulation agreements between the local schools and Southern Union State Community College where they can get college credit for the course work they do at the CTC.

“Some cosmetology students earn their licenses before they are out of high school,” Sealy said. “I ran into one of our health science students at Zaxby’s recently, and they told me they’d soon start work at EAMC-Lanier. Some of our machinists are offered jobs while they are still here.”

Program chair Cary Baldwin said that everyone needs to be aware of what’s going on at Chambers County Career Tech.

“If you haven’t been there lately you need to take a tour,” he said. “There are some fantastic things going on there. It’s a means for our kids to get a good job, make a decent living and stay in the community we all love. They can be trained in areas where local companies need people.”