PHONE: 627-4700

DATE: 06-28-04



By Diana Conard

For one week, Amber Hall is general manager of Techno Wizards, Inc., a fictitious simulated industry on the Haywood Community College campus. For one week, she takes charge of all the workers in each of the five departments of the company. She faces challenges and problems head on, learning how to anticipate what may come next, trying to stay one step ahead.

Hall didn’t start out her "career" at Techno Wizards as general manager. She first was a payroll accountant but when the general manager decided to leave the company, Hall went for the golden opportunity of climbing the ladder quickly. She along with a co-worker and a couple of people outside the company, applied for the position. The Human Resources Department and other coworkers thought Hall was best qualified for the position. So for one week, she has run a tight ship with a few problems thrown in the mix.

In reality, Hall is an adult basic skills student at HCC pursuing a GED certificate. Techno Wizards, Inc. is part of a pilot project that utilizes local high school students and adult basic skills students to role-play for a 40-hour work week. The project, Certified Value Added Employee Curriculum, came into fruition when the Southwestern Region A Workforce Development Board asked HCC to develop a curriculum to promote the development of "value added" entry level employees in our region.

A team of HCC employees began working on the program at the beginning of the year. The curriculum was created through an active learning approach. Components included in the program are the Appalachian culture and work ethic, entrepreneurship, business economics and profitability, customer service, how to become a valuable asset for the business, and technology literacy.

Kathy Hyatt, HCC Human Resource Development employee, acted as a CEO representative for Techno Wizards. "Before the pilot started, we envisioned all this," Hyatt said. "But we didn’t know if it would happen."

The pilot program didn’t just happen; it was a huge success. The students were from HCC’s Adult high school and GED programs, as well as students from Central Haywood High School. Some volunteered for the program while others will receive class credit from participating. But all of them walked away with much more than they anticipated.

The program taught students how their positions or roles in a workplace effect the whole company. They were enlightened on how the entire business was run and were shown how each employee impacts the bottom line.

"As students were randomly given job descriptions, it was interesting to see the leaders step up to the plate," Hyatt said. "The whole experience was exciting."

The "employees" at Techno Wizards were thrown many curve balls, just like real life workers face. From how to retain good employees, to irate customer calls, the students got a taste of what to expect in the world of work.

Participants took the week seriously, often going beyond what was expected of them. They learned how to produce reports, make decisions that would affect their retirement, how taxes are taken out of salaries, and how to generate payroll checks.

"The students discussed problems during their breaks and some even came in early or stayed late," Geri Rose, HCC Regional High Technology Center Information Specialist said. "They were very creative and thought outside the box. They immersed themselves completely."

"Employees" decided to spend money on a consultant, who visited them at Techno Wizards. They got their money’s worth when Haywood County Economic Development Commissioner Mark Clausby showed up. Clausby explained information about the area, where building sites and vacant buildings were available, and the particulars of building permits, inspections, and licenses.

Hyatt and Rose said they saw numerous changes in the participants throughout the week. Dress codes improved based on the students’ awareness of displaying a certain impression of the company to the public. Students learned the importance of being self-sufficient and how to take ownership of their role and job in the workplace. Students kept journals and met twice daily to debrief. They learned how to voice their opinions more effectively and the importance of teamwork and communication within a company. Participants found out firsthand the importance of being organized.

Brandy Norris, an Adult High School student at HCC, "worked" in the finance department at Techno Wizards. "Through this experience, I realized the importance of working together. Without communication, a business will fail."

Hall, a GED student at HCC, said participating in this pilot program was a perfect opportunity for her to experience what it will be like when she starts making a living. "This is a perfect setting for me," Hall explained. "I hope to open my own salon. This has shown me how to anticipate and stay one step ahead." Hall said she’s met people through the pilot program that she might one day work with. She said she has learned how to improve herself and the importance of understanding other employees. "This was a good opportunity. I hope it can be brought to other students."

For Jami Clark, a student at Central Haywood High School and "logistics Manager" at Techno Wizards, she learned many things through the program that she didn’t know before. "I learned self discipline, cooperation, patience, and the importance of teamwork—all the things I’ve never been good at."

With such a successful and encouraging pilot project behind them, Hyatt and Rose are looking forward to the future of the Certified Value Added Employee Curriculum. "Now the possibility is being explored to offer the curriculum to high school students and corporations throughout the region with half or whole day sessions available. This is a program that could be tailored to each individual corporation."

For more information about the Certified Value Added Employee Curriculum, contact Dr. Greg Rutherford at 452-1411.