Two Freeport High School sophomores will have big futures at their doorsteps, according to their teacher, Ted Missildine.
Last month, Emily Phillips and Megan Altman became certified production technicians from the Manufacturing Skill Standards Council. They are the first females at the school to earn certification.
Phillips said she had intended to be in band when she moved to Freeport from Illinois, but due to a scheduling problem she ended up taking Missildine's class instead.
"In the eighth grade we were able to be creative with it, and I discovered I want to go into forensic engineering," she said. "I've always loved science and my older brother is in engineering."
Phillips talked Altman into taking the class as an elective to try it out.
"After I got in it, I started to realize it was a good opportunity to get a job after high school and college," said Altman, who wants to go into computer engineering. "I find it fascinating and it has been a great experience."
The program offers students experience in high-demand fields.
"If she continues in computer engineering she can walk in anywhere with her credentials and be hired," said Missildine. "These two will be successful no matter what they decide to do."
Even with the certainty he feels about the future of the young women, Missildine said he struggles to get girls into the class.
"But once I get them in here, they do well," he said.
It took more than $200,000 to set the program set up at Freeport High School. Because of the cost, the program cannot be offered in every school.
The program has the support of a 10-county consortium of five high schools and five technical colleges.
"So many baby boomers are retiring in manufacturing that there's a void in the workforce due to us not stressing engineering or pre-engineering in the past," said Missildine. "There are 3,500 jobs that will need to be filled in the next few years."
Missildine said that Florida has gotten behind the initiative and grant money has been made available.
"But they didn't want to give the money to Walton County because we're a rural county," he said. "Our principal went to bat for us and we're the only high school in Walton County offering this."
The state is now looking at making the Interstate 10 corridor the state's manufacturing corridor because it's rural and there is so much property available.
"It's an opportunity for our people (to become qualified) for jobs that are other than tourist related," said Missildine.
To complete the manufacturing program at Freeport, students take four tests to earn the production technician certificate.
Missildine currently has nine females enrolled in the program, which he offers as self-paced, taking anywhere from two to four years to complete. Phillips and Altman completed the course in 46 weeks.
"It's an extremely rigorous course," said Missildine.
The course is offered in Technical Colleges as a two-year adult education course that has the possibility to segue into a scholarship at the University of West Florida.
"It's an awesome opportunity to earn 15 college hours of credit that are transferable," said Missildine.
The program assures that students have basic skills. Job opportunities that could come from the certification include assemblers to machine operators. Nearby potential employers that seek staff members with these skills include Fort Walton Machining, American Elite Molding, Ascend Chemicals, Gulf Power and General Electric.
Now in its third year, 12 students have earned CPT certification.
Two companies have offered to do mock interviews with those who earn certification to help students with their soft skills.
"American Elite Molding's vice president is a female and she has offered to teach them how to interview, such as looking people in the eye. This is a great opportunity. It will improve the industry as a whole," said Missildine. "Learning is a life-long process. If you don't believe that, you won't be successful."