Marion Co. ATC

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- One school in Marion County, Kentucky is getting kids ready for careers starting as early as 8th grade. Not only do they want to be a pipeline for businesses in their community, but for the entire state.

Alex Cooper will be the first to admit school has never been his thing.

"I really wasn't a big fan of school," he said. "I couldn't see much of a future really."

The high school junior even considered dropping out at one point, but then something sparked, lighting his way to a brighter future: welding.

"There's just something about it. It's quick and it's easy to pick up, and there's a lot to learn about it," said Cooper.

He discovered his love of welding at Marion County Area Technology Center, which serves more than 500 students a day.

"Here, I actually want to come. It makes me excited to come to school. I get to do something different everyday," said Cooper.

Kids from Marion and Washington Counties travel here to study anything from welding and auto mechanics to health sciences and robotics.

"I've had no clue all my life. This place has really helped me understand what I want to do with my life," said Teagan Bradshaw, a junior at Marion County High School.

The school has been a resource for high schoolers since the 1970s, but two years ago, they started giving 8th graders a chance to get a head start on choosing a career path.

"That's how you find a passion. When you get to explore and do things you've never gotten to do before, that's where your passions come," said principal Christina McRay.

Students don't just spend time in the classroom. Real-world labs give them the ability to get hands on experience, and every program comes with an industry certification.

"So they can leave here with a credential that makes them instantly employable," said McRay.

While there are plenty of career opportunities in the surrounding counties, Marion County ATC wants to be a pipeline for technical jobs all over the state.

"Just because we're in small town, central Kentucky doesn't mean we don't have students with immense talents and skills that could help serve their future workforce," said McRay.

The jobs are becoming open at a rapid rate.

"There are so many good paying jobs that our boomers are retiring from. So we need that workforce there to fill those jobs. High paying, high demand, high wage jobs, so it's our mission here to get kids ready for that," she said.

As for Alex Cooper, he now hopes to graduate from high school and then head off to welding school.

"I want to be able to travel and welding's needed worldwide constantly. There are so many opportunities for any welder," said Cooper.

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