Guidance Counselors Explore OCtech, Career Opportunities for Students at Institute

Photo of Guidance Counselor Leadership Institute 2016 participantsMore than 20 elementary, middle and high school guidance counselors got an in-depth look at Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College and the employment needs of the local community during the third annual Guidance Counselor Leadership Institute.

“Guidance counselors really serve as the gatekeeper for a lot of students, in terms of what happens to them as they plan their future,” President Dr. Walt Tobin said. “The point of this institute is to give counselors an idea of what we do at OCtech and why we do it.”

During the first week, counselors attended information sessions about the college’s student services, admissions process and marketing efforts. They also toured the campus and gained insight into each of the school’s academic program areas. Officials from local industries and other agencies stopped by to discuss career opportunities and employment trends in their respective fields.

On Friday, guidance counselors visited the Starbucks roasting facility in Sandy Run to see a modern manufacturing plant in operation.

“We want to expose guidance counselors to what’s going on at OCtech so that when they’re advising students, they can let them know about our programs,” said Xennie Weeks, Early Childhood Education instructor at the college and institute coordinator.

Guidance counselors are paid for their time at the institute and receive recertification hours.

“OCtech has grown so much over the years,” said Thomasena Adams of Bamberg-Ehrhardt Middle School. “Not everybody is going to go to a traditional four-year college. Some students are going to need two years before they decide what they want to do, or they may want to learn a trade. This would be the ideal place to do that.”

This is Yolanda Johnson’s second time at the institute.

“It’s different when you get a brochure and you’re reading it, but to come here and actually see it gives you more knowledge to pass along to your students,” the Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School guidance counselor said. “I used a lot of what I learned the first year I came to the institute. That information encouraged some of our students to attend OCtech.

“The institute gives you a bird’s-eye view of what’s going on at the college.”

Rodger Benson, partner resources manager at Starbucks Coffee Co.’s Sandy Run Roasting Plant, and Bryan Hamrick, human resources director at Zeus Industrial Products, offered some advice for the counselors to share with their students during the industry panel discussion on July 12.

“Coming out of school, we know there’s not going to be a lot of technical experience,” Hamrick said. “We’re pretty good at teaching skills on our equipment. Where we struggle is interpersonal skills and attendance. A supervisor really wants someone who will help the organization grow.”

Benson agreed, saying good manners, good communication skills and being able to work in a team are all traits Starbucks looks for when hiring.

“Tell your students to strive to do their very best in everything,” he said. “Start them diversifying what they do early on and have them continue that throughout school. Take advantage of summer jobs. They’ll gain skill sets and competencies to build upon.”

The focus shifted to healthcare for the panel discussion on July 13. Jimmy Walker, regulatory and workforce senior vice president at the South Carolina Hospital Association, and Mickey Whisenhunt, interim vice president of patient and family services and chief nursing officer at the Regional Medical Center, talked about the growing need for healthcare providers.

“There is a shortage of total healthcare providers, from physicians on down the line,” Walker said. As more of the workforce retires, “there’s going to be unprecedented vacancies for your students, and it’s more than doctors and nurses. Hospitals are like little cities. They need security, food service, plumbers, engineers, HVAC technicians, IT personnel – there are a lot of opportunities to work in our organization.”

Whisenhunt said RMC has a great relationship with OCtech, as many Nursing and Health Science students do their clinical rotations at the hospital.

“The opportunities really are unlimited,” she said. “Whatever your students’ interests, encourage them to pursue it.” High school students are invited to participate in RMC’s Summer Enrichment Program or Junior Volunteers to learn more about opportunities in healthcare, Whisenhunt said.

On July 14, counselors heard from several colleges that have transfer agreements with OCtech and those involved in the criminal justice field, including Chief Mike Adams, director of the Orangeburg Department of Public Safety, and local attorney Virgin Johnson.

“Law enforcement is hiring,” Adams said. “I’m down almost 20 percent in my workforce.”

However, he said the process of getting hired isn’t easy. ODPS applicants must pass physical, psychological, integrity and general aptitude testing before undergoing a complete background investigation.

“We want to get the best candidates,” Adams said. “And there’s always room for advancement. You can go anywhere in this agency your intelligence, ambition and integrity takes you.”

Johnson said the paralegal field also requires individuals who have a great work ethic coupled with good communication and organizational skills.

“We need more people in the legal profession,” he said. “Paralegals are basically lawyers without a license. You really have to learn the profession and develop your skills.

“I’ve had several excellent student interns from this college. That tells me the quality of OCtech students.”

A second week of the Guidance Counselor Leadership Institute is optional. Counselors are invited to call their students who haven’t made a decision about where – or whether – they’re going to college to share what’s available at OCtech.

Fall classes start Aug. 22. For information about OCtech’s academic programs or to apply, call 803-535-1234, email or visit