Despite initial attempts in the 1960s and 1970s to build a vocational technology center, Adams County lagged behind many of its neighboring counties, including York, Franklin and Cumberland, for much of the last few decades.
Luckily, workforce development and vocational opportunities are on the rise in Adams County. Started in 1995 as Adams County Tech Prep Consortium (ACTP), Adams County’s vocational center began with one program, Allied Health, within the Gettysburg Area School District. Over the coming years, ACTP added more programs, including Diesel Mechanics, Criminal Justice and Culinary Arts.
In 2016, ACTP started the process of becoming its own entity similar to the career and technology centers in surrounding counties. In the fall of 2019, five out of six school districts in the county voted to form and participate in Adams County Technical Institute (ACTI). These school districts – Bermudian Springs, Conewago Valley, Gettysburg, Fairfield and Littlestown – all maintain seats at the table on the joint operating committee for the school as the committee includes a board member from each district. The State Board of Education officially approved ACTI in 2020 with official operations starting on July 1, 2020.
ACTI offers seven programs, with an eighth program currently in development, to students looking for an alternative path for their post-secondary years. ACTI students presently participate in the following programs: Allied Health, Building Trades, Criminal Justice, Computer Networking, Culinary Arts, Diesel Technology and Early Learning. The newest program in development is Career Connections, a flexible program geared at pairing high school seniors with a local business that aligns with the student’s career goals. Each of the seven programs also has an advisory committee made up of local professionals in the field who help guide the program’s goals and progress.
a certificate in the trades or attend college, there is a post-secondary connection available for them to utilize. ACTI’s post-secondary connections include pre-apprenticeship agreements, statewide articulation agreements and dual enrollment with Harrisburg Area Community College (HACC).
ACTI currently employs 10 professionals, including an administrative director, seven teachers and two office personnel. At the helm is Administrative Director Shawn Eckenrode. Eckenrode was a vo-tech student when he was in high school. He studied electronics and went on to serve in the Navy as a nuclear electronics technician. During Eckenrode’s time in the Navy, he also served as an instructor. His time spent as an instructor fostered his desire to be an educator. After his time in the Navy, Eckenrode taught at Franklin County Career and Technology Center for 20 years, launching an engineering technology program during his tenure. After a stint at Dauphin County Technical School, he set his sights on expanding career and technical education opportunities in Adams County. Since 2018, he has served a vital role in the development of ACTI.
The importance of the trades is evident beyond ACTI, with multiple school districts in the county offering additional technical programs. For instance, Conewago Valley School District launched its Colonial Career & Technology Center (CCTC) in the fall of 2019. At this time, CCTC offers three state-approved programs for its students in engineering, family consumer science and welding. In many cases, at both ACTI and at individual districts, programs are at full or near-full capacity. Many of the programs even have waiting lists reflecting the growing interest local students have in the trades.
This interest was not always present. Over the years, many schools throughout the United States have put a stronger emphasis on college education, often neglecting the alternative paths available. Additionally, up until the mid-1990s, Adams County students had limited vocational opportunities in their home county. Nevertheless, the pendulum is beginning to swing, both nationally and locally, with many high schools promoting the trades as a post-graduation option. This change in direction is important as the impact of workforce development and educating young people in the trades cannot be overstated.
Robin Fitzpatrick, president of the Adams Economic Alliance, knows the importance of career and technology opportunities. As the first executive director of ACTP, Fitzpatrick was instrumental in launching ACTP’s first program, Allied Health. Despite the continued growth of ACTP and now ACTI over the past few decades, Fitzpatrick says, “[The growth] doesn’t stop there. In addition to the lack of employees available to fill existing job openings, many of the employment opportunities require technical skills. These jobs pay well! They provide family sustaining wages. They are no longer the jobs we think about being historically industrial: hot, dirty and dangerous. Think high tech and high skill.”
Eckenrode agrees that Adams County students need more career and technical opportunities, saying, “Not only are our students missing out, but our local businesses are also missing out on skilled, entry-level workers. You could even draw a parallel between career and technical education and the standard of living in a community. If you have these programs available, you have a higher skilled workforce, better paying jobs and a higher standard of living. There are many benefits of training and therefore retaining our young workforce.”
As ACTI looks toward the future, the school hopes to offer additional programming to even more students throughout the county. To do this, ACTI will need to secure additional physical space for growth as well as funding and support. Despite these obstacles, growth is inevitable with the continuing enthusiasm of local students, educators and businesses. If you are a local business or community member interested in being a part of growth and development at ACTI, please visit www.acti-pa.org to learn more about how you can get involved or provide support.
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