Years ago, South Aiken High School had a successful industrial arts program.

The space remains and now it’s getting an upgrade to introduce a welding program next fall.

“We see over and over the data that welders are needed,” said Brooks Smith, the Aiken County Career and Technology Center director. “We feel we’re going to provide training for students they can use when they graduate from high school.”

Smith also serves as the Aiken County School District’s Career and Technology Education director.

In recent years, the student enrollment at the center has nearly doubled with such programs as health science, CADD, welding, automotive technology and much more.

However, some students may want to remain at their home school or have scheduling issues limiting their options to travel to the Career Center.

The school district installed three other offsite courses for the current school year – sports medicine classes at Silver Bluff High and North Augusta High and a digital media class at Midland Valley High.

The Career Center has had a strong health science class for many years and in recent years, Midland Valley has operated a popular sports medicine class.

“I think it’s a response to the expansion of the health industry in the country,” said Dr. Tim Yarborough, the district’s academic officer for the high schools. “There’s greater access to health care and, with rising costs, there is always a chronic shortage like nurses and other health occupations.”

Health careers are the most popular choice of students who participate in the first Individual Graduation Plans as eighth-graders and beyond, Smith said. Welding, too, is close to the top.

North Augusta High saw the sports medicine program as the way to go, said principal Todd Bornscheuer. He hired an instructor, Ashley Bridges, in late July. The program is introducing to sophomores as a three-year program, Bornscheuer said.

The high school long has had a legendary culinary arts program, as other schools do, as well as business courses. All the career courses can lead to seniors graduating with “completer” certificates, giving them another avenue to Aiken Technical College, other two-year campuses or four-year colleges as well.

“Ashley is just starting to get her equipment,” said Bornscheuer. “She has not only a classroom, but a training room where students can attend to athletes’ needs and rehab instruction. Ashley comes back to school for athletic events at night, and the kids can come in as volunteers right now.”

Yarborough credited the support of the county School Board members to allocate additional funds for the new instructors this year and next. The funding was much appreciated, Smith said.

“This has enabled us to provide the best opportunities for our students and look at how they move forward in career and technology education,” he said.