Career Classroom: On the job, high school students get more than vocational, technical training

As a senior at Mercer County Technical School’s Academy of Culinary Arts, Xadea Green is preparing for a career in the hospitality industry.

Since the beginning of the school year in September, Green has been working at Mrs. G Appliances on Route 1 in Lawrence Township, using the culinary skills learned in high school to help customers as they enter the massive showroom filled with high-end luxury kitchen goods.

It’s part of an internship set up through her school to give her work-based experience before she graduates. In addition to learning the ins and outs of the appliance business, Green said the job has vastly improved her communications skills and her interpersonal relationship skills. She also answers questions in real time that come through online chat on the website.

“When you are in the hospitality industry, it’s very important to learn how to work with other people,” Green said. “Just learning how to communicate with customers and making them happy is an important skill. My job is to make sure everyone is happy and satisfied. “

Those soft skills that Green learned on the job are exactly why David Nash works so hard to establish relationships with businesses in Mercer County. 

“School is a great place to obtain knowledge and theory and hands-on experience,” said Nash, the co-op coordinator for the Mercer County Technical School district. 

“But, here is where the rubber meets the road. It’s the paycheck coupled with the dependency of relationships and relational success with fellow coworkers and clients,” Nash said. “At MCTS, we do our best to teach it, but real-world internships and career and technical education experiences outside of the classroom is how we’re doing it in the 21st century.”

From left are Debbie Schaeffer, owner of Mrs. G Appliance; David Nash, co-op coordinator for the Mercer County Technical School district; Anthony Dickinson, a senior at MCTS; and Xadea Green, also a senior at the school. ­

Debbie Schaeffer, the owner of Mrs. G Appliance, said her business benefits from the relationship with Mercer County Technical Schools. She said the students are highly trained, highly skilled, technically minded and are a good fit for the needs of her business.

“We jumped at the opportunity to partner with Mercer County Technical Schools,” Schaeffer said. “This allows us to showcase the many aspects of our business to talented young people, while they in turn gain valuable work experience. It’s a win-win.”

Mrs. G Appliance was recognized as a business partner of the year by Mercer County Technical Schools in 2020. The award is given annually by each of the state’s 21 county vocational technical schools to outstanding business partners who contribute to career and technical education. Business partners play a variety of roles, including serving on county vocational-technical school program advisory boards, offering opportunities for students to gain valuable work experience, donating equipment or serving as mentors and role models for students.

In addition to Green, several other students who are studying HVAC and plumbing are working in the warehouse, repairing and assembling appliances and helping out with whatever other work needs to be done, including doing in-home repairs.

“It’s really a jack of all trades kind of position,” said Jim Duffy, the warehouse and service manager at Mrs. G Appliances. Duffy said the students from Mercer County Technical Schools that he has worked with have all fit right in because of their technical training.

For example, Duffy said he recently noticed one of the warehouse interns inspecting a dryer that wasn’t working.

“They’re looking inside and I can see the wheels turning,” Duffy said. “They are trying to process why it’s not working. That’s the mechanical acumen. It’s is definitely a strength that we see from the students.”

Anthony Dickinson, a senior enrolled in the HVAC program at Mercer County Technical Schools, is one of two students working in the warehouse. Dickenson said he has been able to apply what he’s learned in the classroom to the job. But he said the biggest lesson learned has nothing to do with a technical education.

Jim Duffy, left, the warehouse and service manager, discusses an issue on a dishwasher with Anthony Dickinson, a senior enrolled in the HVAC program at Mercer County Technical Schools.

“Just being polite to people and customer service is a big one,” said Dickinson, who plans to enlist in one of the military branches after graduation.

Nash said students who attend CTE schools like Mercer County Technical Schools tend to thrive in work environments that require technical and mechanical skills, like Mrs. G Appliances.

“The environment that they came from prepares them mentally for what this environment is,” Nash said. “Whether they decide to stay with an incredible entrepreneurial company like Mrs. G or move on to a different career field, every experience they learn here just builds them stronger as they move through their career.”

Conversation Starter

Employers can learn more and express interest in partnering with county vocational-technical schools here: