Be Pro Be Proud mobile workshop allows high school students to explore trades

Albemarle High School junior Malik Watkins focused as he picked up several logs and carefully transported them onto a trailer; likewise, senior Akala Garrett concentrated on the road as she drove a commercial truck. Junior Nadia Lindsey spent time as a lineworker, perched high in the air repairing an electrical line.

All of these tasks were accomplished through virtual simulations Tuesday inside a tractor trailer at the Albemarle High parking lot thanks to Be Pro Be Proud North Carolina. It is an organization that encourages students to pursue careers in the trade workforce. The group utilizes a custom-built mobile workshop trailer to offer hands-on experiences with skilled professionals to middle and high school students statewide.

The Be Pro Be Proud trailer was parked at the Albemarle High School parking lot.

The trailer has nine simulations using virtual reality technology to  introduce students to skilled trade jobs such as construction, manufacturing, HVAC and commercial driving. Albemarle and Stanly STEM Early College students experienced trade skills and work inside the trailer.

“We can learn about trades and see what we might want to do after high school,” Albemarle junior Josue Garcia said.

Garcia said many students do not plan to attend a four-year college after graduation.

Akala Garrett experiences what it feels like to drive a commercial truck.

Nadia Lindsey takes part in a lineworker simulation.

Andrew Weiszer learned about fiber optics through a virtual simulation.

With older skilled workers retiring, there is a need for younger professionals to replace them in jobs such as construction, welding, plumbing and computer programming, said Josh Seaford, who drove the trailer to AHS. The median salary for many of these professions is more than $50,000, with the top 10% often earning more than $80,000.

By accessing the program’s website, students learn about the starting salaries for professions and where they can receive training. In North Carolina, more than 15,000 students have seen the Be Pro Be Proud display and 625 have “joined the movement,” completing a survey which shows organization sponsors their interest in pursing a technical career.

“By doing what we’re doing, we are trying to point them to these careers because right now the demands are so high,” Seaford said.

Since the program launched in North Carolina in October, Seaford and his wife Trish have visited more than 50 schools across the eastern part of the state. They brought the mobile workshop to North Stanly and West Stanly in December. They completed the Stanly County Schools high school circuit Wednesday at South.

Trish and Josh Seaford have been taking their mobile workshop to schools across eastern North Carolina to get more students interested in skilled jobs such as manufacturing and construction.

During a short presentation before students got to experiment with the simulation, Seaford mentioned it takes about five weeks for people to get their commercial driver’s license. With a CDL, graduates can make around $40,000 to $60,000 a year.

“We’re really excited about it,” Mandy Melton, director of career and technical education, said about the program, noting the mobile workshop will make stops at the four middle schools next year.

With students getting to learn about what these skilled jobs entail and how much money they could make, “it really opens their eyes to things,” Melton said.

Seaford, who has experience in home and commercial construction and also spent time working for NASCAR, said he enjoys the one-on-one conversations he has with students.

“You have those kind of highlights that really make you feel like you’re making a difference,” he said.