GREENVILLE, S.C. (WSPA)– The new school year has started in Greenville County and this year a new career and technical education center welcomed students for the first time.

7NEWS Evening Anchor, Taylor Murray, got an inside look at the new $17-million dollar Career and Technical Education (CTE) Center and will show you why the school district believes this will give students a competitive advantage in the workforce.

“It’s a product of a lot of hard work going back several years in Greenville county to capture our “Graduation Plus” initiative, which essentially we want students to graduate from high school with something else to take with them to launch the next phase of their career. So, that could be an industry certification or workplace learning experience or completing a CTE pathway, such as the ones that we have here.”

Eric Williams, Executive Director of College and Career Readiness, Greenville County Schools

Greenville School’s executive director of college and career readiness, Eric Williams, says there are five innovative programs, under one roof, aerospace technology, cybersecurity/networking, clean energy technology, and automation and robotics.

7NEW’s Taylor Murray asks, “You have to work with community partners to really make this come to life for our students. So why now? And what did that startup process look like?”

Williams says, “Every two years, we look at our programs that we do a comparison to sort of a gap analysis with business and industry to see one of the areas in the workforce that we’re just not meeting right here in the upstate. And, so we partnered together with the Greenville Chamber of Commerce and the Greenville Area Development Corp to talk with them about the needs that they had in the area. We came up with an initial list of 10 possible program areas, and really had to whittle it down to things that were specific to the upstate, and that we had the most need for in those particular industries.”

The school district says every teacher, at the CTE innovation center, has expert experience in their field.

7NEW’s Taylor Murray asks, “Was it a challenge to find people that wanted to instruct high schoolers instead of being on the job?”

Williams says, “Certainly, that was one of our greatest challenges. We utilized our industry advisory committees. We have a committee for each of these five program areas. And, so, we sent lots of information, job descriptions to them, and had them reach out to potential contacts, again, not to just have an industry expert, but also somebody who had a heart for teaching and a heart to invest in students. And so we’re really excited about the five folks that we found to teach these programs.”

Williams says the experience is all about the students, giving them the tools and training they need, whether they go to college after high school or straight into the workforce.

“We are very intentional about designing the programs here to ensure that we met the needs of students, regardless of what they wanted to do after graduation from high school. So, if they wanted to go straight into the workforce, we wanted to have a pathway in each one of these programs for those students. So, they can directly enter the workforce with the certification and the skills that they’ve learned here. But also, if they want to enter a two or a four-year college, or go all the way up through graduate school, in engineering, for example, they’d have those opportunities, and we will prepare them for that.”

Eric Williams, Executive Director of College and Career Readiness, Greenville County Schools

The classes offered at the “CTE Innovation Center” will be honors-level courses, for 10th, 11th, and 12th grade students.

Students must apply to take those classes.