Saks Honda

Rob Nicholson of the Alabama Community College System instructs student Travis Ivy during class at Saks High School in partnership with Honda Manufacturing of Alabama. Photo by Stephen Gross / The Anniston Star

When Saks High School senior Hunter McLeod graduates next May, he’ll be prepared to go right into a manufacturing job. 

That is, if he completes his new coursework.

Saks High is working with Gadsden State Community College, offering courses that provide hands-on training and certification to work with manufacturing equipment from Honda Manufacturing of Alabama and other local industries. 

At the end of the one-year program, students will be certified as production technicians, making them “higher skilled production technicians in all sectors of manufacturing,” according to the website of the Manufacturing Skill Standards Council.

“I just thought, ‘I’ll always have that,’ even if I don’t need it, I’ll always have it to fall back on, so I might as well get it over in high school and not have to worry about it again,” McLeod said.

The program is one of several others around the county that give high schoolers a head start into their chosen career. The Calhoun County Career Academy in Jacksonville offers several career preparation programs available to local students, while Anniston High offers students the chance to become a certified nursing assistant as a part of the school’s career tech program.

The new program is made possible by the new agriscience building at Saks. The 58,000-square-foot facility is part of an $8.5 million renovation to the high school. It houses a classroom and soon will hold heavy equipment from Honda that students will use to get hands-on experience.

Wesley Ginn, who is in his eighth year teaching at Saks and is head of the fledgling agriscience department, said the certification students will receive is invaluable.

“They will end up gaining a certificate that will have them ready to go straight into the workforce to the top of the hiring line and top of interview line in businesses such as Honda and Bridgewater that are local companies around our area,” Ginn said.

McLeod said he hopes the certification he receives will lead to a job with the Lincoln-based automobile manufacturer.

“I am probably going to try to get on with Honda as an engineer and work my way up,” McLeod said. “I’ve always enjoyed working with cars, that’s kind of my thing.”

The new program at Saks will consist of four courses, with two taught in the fall semester and two in the spring. Ginn spent his summer getting certified to teach the classes.

There are 14 students, all seniors, in the inaugural year of the new program. In addition to their hands-on training, students must pass coursework, tests and exams to receive their certificate.

“We have several students that would like to leave high school and start at a good-paying job, but at the same time, they understand the requirements of being paid really well is that you have to work hard and be trained properly,” Ginn said.

Ginn said Saks Principal Jody Whaley was instrumental in the process of securing the needs of the program.

“If they complete this certificate, they’ll be in a position to get scholarships or enter the workforce,” Whaley said. “Some people just want to get started into work straight out of high school, and this helps train them for better paying jobs.”

Contact Staff Writer Daniel Mayes at 256-235-3561 or danielmayesstar@gmail.com. On Twitter @DMayes_Star.

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