Officials talk Meceola Tech courses, program

BIG RAPIDS — As students leave school and choose whether they would like to join a branch of the armed forces or the workforce, or pursue post-secondary education, officials in local industries and at the Mecosta-Osceola Intermediate School District have noticed a disconnect.

The Meceola Tech program works to help students past graduation, as well as adults looking for training, with completing certifications needed in the skilled trades industry.

"We are really attempting to fill a much-needed niche," said Mecosta-Osceola Career Center Director of Career and Technical Education Steve Locke. "We have heard from a lot of employers that they can't find skilled or professional traders workers and we know there is a segment of the population that is looking for employment. What we are attempting to do is facilitate those two agendas and bring those qualities together through quality adult training programs."

"The courses that we provide will give students the opportunity to gain industry credentials," added Linda Ward, supervisor of Career and Technical Education Extension Services.

Currently, Meceola Tech offers courses in automotive, firefighting and welding, as well as for emergency medical technicians and the corrections academy. Meceola Tech also offers a one-day course, ServSafe for those in food service industries.

"We really started Meceola Tech last year," Locke said. "We are kind of building the plane as it's taking off. We are being very intentional in only offering what is being asked for by employers and what students will take. We have been very intentional in contacting our employers and finding out what credentials they are looking for and what certificates are needed for employment opportunities. As we build our Meceola Tech programs, it is essential for us to make sure we are staying connected to business and industry. I think we have a good handle on that. We have good industry partners right now.

"As we are just launching these programs, I think the overall effect right now is potential in opportunities. We know that by creating opportunities and by connecting employers with potential employees, we are acting as a catalyst for better employment opportunities or for increased employment opportunities in this area."

While most of the courses are not currently in session, many will start again toward the beginning of 2018. ServSafe will be offered again on Jan. 4. Welding, a 146-hour course, will begin on Jan. 8, on the same day automotive electrical systems, a 77-hour course, will start. Also in January, Meceola Tech is expanding to offer an information technology: fundamentals course. The corrections academy courses will begin again in May.

"These courses are designed to be a concentrated focus of study, with an emphasis on getting a certification or credential when the student is done that can be used for immediate employment," Locke said. "One of the other things we are really excited about is the Career Connect program.

"We are really excited about this opportunity because we understand that sometimes the prospect of going back to finish a high school diploma or a GED may not seem like it has a purpose or a point to it, other than to say you have. By connecting career and technical education training opportunities to it, we hope it is incentive enough to make that prospect seem like an endeavor they want to engage in. We believe that it is hard to get excited taking a geometry course but it's not hard to get excited taking a welding course or to take an EMT course. Career Connect really is a program that we are going to use to encourage people to complete their GED or their school completion program, all within the context of getting some skilled or professional trades training and ultimately employment."

The Career Connect program is offered through Meceola Tech. Community members hoping to become a Career Connect participant must first join an adult education program to begin the referral process. Once enrolled, the courses are free to those in the Career Connect program, due to a Michigan Talent Investment Agency grant.

"With Meceola Tech, the classes are tuition-based," Ward said. "They are very affordable. Students are just paying for the technical training. Career Connect is a free program to the students who are earning their GED or high school completion."

Classes are offered on nights, occasional weekends and throughout the summer to help working community members attend.

"One of the reasons we are so passionate about connecting people with opportunities locally is because for more than 40 years, communities have supported the career center," Locke said. "We see this as our opportunity to take a great service and build upon that and continue to trying to serve the community through additional services.

"Ultimately what we would like to do is play an essential role in an apprenticeship program that would be attractive to existing manufacturers and would potentially be attractive to those looking to relocate and bring new business in because they can see the connection with a skilled work force right here in Mecosta and Osceola counties."

For more information on Meceola Tech and the Career Connect program, visit