Grayson College has been awarded a $200,000 grant from the National Science Foundation for its recently-launched New Blue Academy program, which aims to get high school students interested in and educated for manufacturing and skilled-labor careers.

The three-year grant will largely be used to cover the salary of the program director, as well as internet outreach and marketing efforts. Grayson College’s Dean of Workforce Education Steve Davis said the idea to establish the New Blue Academy grew out of a study commissioned by Workforce Solutions Texoma, the Sherman Economic Development Corp., the Denison Development Alliance and area industrial businesses. What they found, Davis said, was that few young people are interested in Texoma’s many manufacturing jobs, so more and more of the jobs are going unfilled as older workers begin to retire.

“They did a survey. and they identified that middle skills in manufacturing was going to be an area of real concern in the near future because the Baby Boomers are retiring, and we have no pipeline to replace them,” Davis said.

The New Blue Academy is structured as a three-year educational, certificate program. Students enroll in the program at the start of their sophomore year, taking two classes — technical calculations and blueprint reading for machinists — at their high school. Come junior and senior years, the students take on more courses, all of which are held at Grayson College. Students must then complete a summer internship following their graduation from high school. Once all courses and requirements are completed, the students will receive 41 college credit hours and both a basic and advanced manufacturing technology certificate.

Davis said the shortage of younger, skilled workers stems from their misconception that industrial and manufacturing jobs are still the same as they were decades ago.

“Their perception of manufacturing careers is probably based on antiquated ideas about what manufacturing was,” Davis said. “It’s not that way anymore. Manufacturing used to be thought of as dirty and dull, but now, it’s state of the art. That’s thanks to all the electronics and the improvements that have come with the digital age.”

Students of the Sherman and Denison independent school districts were the first to enroll in the program and did so earlier this year — the 2016-2017 academic year. Davis said Grayson College currently plans to offer the program to 21 North Texas school districts and encouraged any other interested districts to inquire.

“If any ISD in our service area wants to participate, they are more than welcome,” Davis said.

While not all manufacturing occupations require a college degree, Davis said students should still pursue some form of higher education as it will give them a tremendous advantage as they apply for jobs in an industry that is quickly becoming more specialized and demanding.

“The old perception is, ‘Oh, I could just do on-the-job training,’ and that’s not the case anymore,” Davis said. “Sixty percent of all jobs in the future are going to require some type of education beyond high school and this would be one of those. I mean, when you’re talking about technical calculations and you’re talking about running a personal logic controller or you’re talking about reading blueprints, that’s not something that you graduate high school knowing how to do. It’d be very difficult to do it through OJT (on-the-job training), so, yes, they’re going to need some education beyond high school.”

Grayson College says it will also continue to develop an incentive that encourages students to complete an additional 19 credit hours for an Associate of Applied Science degree in advanced manufacturing technologies.