BIG RAPIDS — Students at the Mecosta-Osceola Career Center received a visit from Congressman John Moolenaar, R-Midland, as he toured the classrooms on Monday.

Moolenaar’s visit included meeting with career center and Mecosta-Osceola Intermediate School District officials, including MOCC Director of Career and Technical Education Steve Locke, who spoke about career-readiness and Meceola Tech.

“We are very passionate about what we are doing here,” Locke said. “We are really trying to develop the idea that education leads to vocation, and that leads to income at some point. We are seeing a lot of individuals who don’t make the connection between work and income. We are really focused here at the career center and at Meceola Tech with establishing that connection.”

Locke and fellow officials hope students come to MOCC and learn technical skills that will help them to provide for themselves later.

“We think people find real purpose in themselves when they contribute to something greater than just being a recipient of something,” he said. “We have been really committed to career-readiness practices, so much to the point that in addition to a technical certification, students are going to be able to get an employment readiness certification that is based on their demonstrated career readiness practices.”

To keep career-readiness in the forefront of students’ minds, instructors have included attendance, performance and other such qualities into lesson plans. As an example, Locke said a student can accumulate demerit points for tardiness.

By the end of a student’s time at the career center, Locke said each should have practiced interviewing, should have a resume and should have a plan to transition from the MOCC to either the military, post-secondary education or the workforce.

“I like how you are exposing students to different avenues so they are self-directed and pursing things they are interested in,” Moolenaar said. “It is important to be on-task and engaged in what you are doing rather than just passing the time away.”

One effort to help students make the transition from the MOCC to the next step in their educational or career-ready journey is Meceola Tech, which Locke spoke about during the meeting.

“Meceola Tech is a new endeavor for which we have identified in this area that there is not affordable post-secondary vocational training opportunities,” Locke said. “Ferris State University is a great institution, but at $400 per credit hour for this community, in which 30 percent of our school-age children come from families who are at or below the poverty level, we recognize university is not a viable option for a number of people.”

People working in the welding industry may not need a degree for their career, Locke said as an example. Instead, individuals may need a certificate showing they have the skill set needed for the position for which they are applying.

“So, what we are attempting to do is become the first ISD in the state that is post-secondary accredited,” Locke said. “We realize this building sits vacant from 4 p.m. until 8 a.m. the next day and all summer long. We are supported by the tax payers of Mecosta and Osceola counties so how do we put this to work for them.

“Recently, we also came into grant funding so we will be partnering with adult education, which is pretty unique,” Locke said. “We will be offering students Meceola Tech opportunities while they complete their GEDs.”

Locke said Meceola Tech is an attempt to stand in the gap between K-12 and post-secondary training or education.

“This idea of career and technical education, apprenticeships, skilled trades, helping people transition into this economy, especially in manufacturing — I think you are right on the front lines in all these areas,” Moolenaar said.