Not long ago, Quendaris Harris was contemplating his future and was encouraged by staff at Cross Creek High School to participate in Move On When Ready, a program that allows high school students to take college courses and graduate ready for the workforce.
Through the program, Harris attended Augusta Technical College and obtained a two-year degree in nuclear engineering technology. Today, he is working as a nuclear technician for Southern Nuclear Co.
Harris spoke to over 300 students from Edmund Burke Academy, Curtis Baptist School and Aiken, Allendale, Columbia, Barnwell, Burke and Richmond counties at the STEM Career Connections on Thursday, encouraging them to look into doing something similar. He noted that the pay isn’t bad.
Students visited with 31 STEM-related vendors from across Georgia and South Carolina, most with ties to the Augusta area. This is the fifth annual event, presented by Savannah River Site Community Reuse Organization. It originated to teach students about job opportunities in the nuclear industry but has expanded to science, technology, engineering and mathematics programs.
Rick McLeod, president and CEO of the organization, said SRS alone is looking to replace at least 3,000 of its 11,000 employees following retirement in the next three to five years. And contrary to popular belief, not all of those jobs are in engineering.
“The engineering population is a small population of the workforce out there,” he said. “You also have accountants, you have you have contracts, you have technicians, maintenance folks. You have a full gamut of people who will be retiring.”
The Career Connections event is just a small step toward filling those future jobs and keeping the employees local, McLeod said.
“It’s beginning the pipeline,” he said. “Our role at the CRO is to make sure the local folks have the potential for the jobs. The companies don’t have to recruit in. They can hire local.”
Perry said many potential employees are scared of all the talk about science, but is confident that STEM education is the basis for jobs in most fields including manufacturing, healthcare, cyber and more.