GENESEE COUNTY — “What do you want to be when you grow up?” James Ply, principal at the Genesee Career Institute (formerly Genesee Skill Center), came up with the wrong answer to that question as a youth. That is one reason he is now dedicated to helping GCI students get it right the first time, he said, as the guest speaker for the West Flint Business Association.
Ply said he was a student at Michigan Tech studying to become an engineer when he realized it was not what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. He was a principal for 18 years at Montrose High School become assuming his current job. Students come to GCI for a few hours each day to explore a career they think they might be interested in, whether it be cosmetologist, nurse, mechanic, computer specialist, scientist, veterinarian, chef, law enforcement officer, builder, electrician or numerous other skilled trades.
“Whatever the career, we have a program they can try out and see if it is what they want to do,’’ Ply said.
CGI”s motto is “explore, experience, excel” because it is important that students identify a career interest early on, get firsthand experience then work to excel at it.
Some go on to college and some go directly into skilled trades but either way Ply and his staff are committed to seeing that students are career ready, he said.
GCI begins reaching out to students in seventh and eighth grade with testing to determine what they might be good at and development of an education plan.
GCI courses are available free of charge to all juniors and seniors in Genesee County. Transportation is provided to and from their home schools.
An experiential component lets students go out into the field to see firsthand, for example, what a nurse does in a hospital or a mechanic does at a car dealership.
“We believe in hands-on learning. You’ve got to smell it, touch it and see it,’’ Ply said.
The process helps students decide if they like what they see or want to look at something else.
GCI runs its own restaurant where culinary students cook and serve affordably priced breakfasts and lunches, Ply said.
State and national certification testing is available for many programs and job placement assistance also if offered.
For example, students in the cosmetology program for two years are ready to sit for the state license test when they are done and can graduate ready to go right into the work world, Ply said. CGI even pays for the test.
Cosmetology is a resurgent career interest to the point that some students have to be turned away, he said.
Skilled trades is also seeing the pendulum swing back the other way to shortages in plumbers, contraction, electricians, welders and other jobs from which people are retiring and there are not enough workers trained to take their place.
Insurance Risk Management is another career field with a huge shortage of workers, Ply said. CGI runs a program in cooperation with Pioneer Mutual Insurance Company in which students earn nine credits and can test for three major certifications in the insurance field.
For students interested in machining careers, GCI runs a Computer Numeric Control (CNC) program with Baker College and Mott Community Colleges which enables them to graduate just a few credits short of those needed for a career, he said.
There are former GCI students now in college specializing in welding underwater and using skills they learned at GCI, Ply said.
“I think we still are one of the best kept secrets out there,’’ Ply said, admitting that it can be difficult sometimes to persuade students to leave their high school for two hours each day to come to GCI.
CGI staff visits schools to talk to tenth graders about attending its programs and invites them to an open house.