The GO TEC Training Lab officially opened on Tuesday afternoon at Danville’s Institute for Advanced Learning and Research — a sizable step forward in the process of introducing technology and manufacturing careers to middle school students in some of Virginia’s most rural counties.
The facility opens as just one segment of a broader plan to incorporate precision machining, welding, automation and cyber security, among other similar topics, into area classrooms.
The GO Virginia State Board approved a $4.9 million investment in 2019 to go toward the GO TEC Training Lab — shorthand for Great Opportunities in Technology and Engineering Careers — and similar workspaces in various middle schools.
“I was a middle school principal, and I know how impressionable students at that age are,” said Tammy Hurt, the GO TEC program manager. “Most of them just have no clue as to what they want to do. Some of them do, but a lot of them don’t, so [we’re] introducing them to the different career options and helping them to figure out what their interest is and what their passion is.”
Once middle schoolers complete the GO TEC Training Lab programs, they’ll be connected to further training opportunities in high school and, ultimately, higher, institutions of higher learning.
The primary GO TEC Training Lab is outfitted with computer workstations, 3D printers, a simulated welding machine, a computer numerical control (CNC) milling machine, laser cutters and similar technology.
At the time of the official ribbon cutting, a pair of Dobots — small robots with wheels, something similar to a toy remote-controlled car — did the honors.
“Basically everything focuses on advanced manufacturing — we look at engineering, we look at robotics and automation,” Hurt said. “This investment signifies job growth. That’s the ultimate goal for the Go Tech program — attracting new industry into the area. We just happen to be doing that at the middle school level right now to try to build that pipeline and increase the spokes that are in this area.”
Industry leaders were also on hand Tuesday to revel in the opening of the facility that aims to offer more career ideas to students at a younger age.
Jason Wells — the vice chair of the GO TEC advisory board and the president of Kyocera SGS Tech Hub, a manufacturer located across the street from the Institute — expressed his optimism for how the new technology available to students will help usher in a new generation of manufacturing and engineering professionals.
“Programs like this can really inspire young people to see that as a feasible, and certainly a prosperous, career track,” Wells said. “There’s tremendous earning power. It’s a skill you can take pretty much anywhere in the world to utilize, and we hope to really help people in academia realize the opportunities that exist in manufacturing.”
During the last school year, the program was available to students at Danville’s Westwood and O.T. Bonner Middle Schools, Chatham and Gretna middle schools in Pittsylvania County and middle schools in Cumberland and Prince Edward counties. This year, the program has expanded to include other neighboring, rural counties, along with Dan River and Tunstall middle schools and Patrick County High School.
“We all share the same goal,” said Mark Gignac, chair of the GO TEC advisory board and executive director of the Institute. “To stimulate job growth by creating a sustainable pipeline of skilled talent for high-demand careers.”
The business news you need
With a weekly newsletter looking back at local history.