As Maryland’s Eastern Shore works to attract and grow high-tech companies, the Dorchester County Career and Technology Center in Cambridge is preparing the next generation of workers to staff them.

The Center moved to a new, 98,000-square-foot building in Cambridge before the Fall 2011 semester and has 445 high school students enrolled in its courses. The new Center blends traditional vocational courses, such as masonry, welding and diesel engine mechanics, with high-tech tracks including interactive media production, computer-aided design and IT networking.  A tour of the Center, which every local eighth and ninth grade student in the county is invited to take to pique their interest, is impressive.  All the equipment is new, and enthusiasm exhibited by students, teachers and staff is palpable. Students take honors courses, compete in state academic and technical competitions and partner with community organizations on large projects.

Students learning building trades work with Habitat for Humanity to build a home for a family in the community. The culinary arts students provide lunches for guests who attend meetings at the DCTC conference area. Cambridge International, a local manufacturer, hosts DCTC student interns.

The goal of Maryland’s career and technology education programs is to work with traditionally academic programs in providing a well-qualified pool of potential employees, trainees, and college students.

“This Center plays an enormous role with kids that graduate,” said DCTC Principal Kermit Hines. “This has actually kept some students that would have otherwise dropped out of school in school and has brought them the success academically that they couldn’t otherwise find before. They see the relevance in their academic education.”

The new focus on technology fields comes at a critical time for Dorchester County, which saw significant job losses as manufacturing plants moved overseas and the seafood industry declined. For years, Dorchester has dealt with high unemployment and a workforce struggling to find jobs that pay well.

The county, in partnership with Cambridge and state and federal agencies recently initiated the $8.5 million development of the Dorchester County Business and Technology Park to attract high-tech companies and house the state’s only technology incubator on the Eastern Shore.

The county sees DCTC with its expanding curriculum in technology courses as a key supplier of workers for the firms it hopes to bring to the technology park.

“The young people have a wonderful opportunity to rewrite their life scripts,” said county school Superintendent Henry Wagner. “We find that the children in our community often have a narrow view as to what their potential is in the global economy and in the workforce. What a facility like this accomplishes for them is that it provides them with an opportunity to see their future differently and to align their school experience right here in [Dorchester County] with that future they are now envisioning.”