Success with Simulated Workplace at BCCTHLC

The finished “LOVE” sign that BCCTHLC students designed and fabricated themselves.

The simulated workplace model is the future of education for career and technical centers in Southwest Virginia and nationwide.

Please don’t take our word for it, though. Buchanan County Career, Technology & Higher Learning Center instructors have successfully implemented the model in three classrooms with great results!


Kayla Cantrell (engineering and drafting instructor) toured the Nicholas County Career and Technical Education Center in Craigsville, West Virginia, with us last spring. With the help of others who toured the school, Kayla met with BCCTHLC teachers at the end of the 2022 school year. They shared what they learned and made the case to adopt the model in Buchanan County.

In October 2022, instructors Michelle Baker (culinary arts) and Morgan Owens (welding) also visited NCCTEC. Like Kayla, they saw the potential of the simulated workplace model. These instructors are now incorporating small pieces of the model into their programs. Plans are in place to incorporate the model into other departments later.

The results:
Culinary arts students work alongside their instructor in the kitchen.

“With [the] simulated workplace [model], teaching has a more hands-on approach to engage student learning,” Kayla says. “Not only are students learning the material and concepts that the traditional class would teach, but they also break themselves into specific job titles and roles, just like the workforce of that class discipline.” Kayla has witnessed the power of giving students ownership of their work firsthand. Students are more willing to work together to achieve a common goal. They are now excited about participating in class, and disciplinary issues have decreased. One special needs student in the culinary arts program was completely disengaged before BCCTHLC implemented the model. “After taking on this approach, this student now loves to cook, has participated in one of the catered events, and can’t wait to get started each day in class with their projects,” says culinary arts instructor Michelle Baker.

Student impact:

Students are just as excited as their instructors about the simulated workplace model. “Students find more meaning and purpose in their work knowing they are working on a project for someone or something,” says Kayla. Culinary arts students have learned first-hand the ins and outs of the catering business. They are learning the importance of placement and presentation to show off the delicious food they make. “They have catered several dinners for our school board meetings and BCPS staff Christmas Party,” says Baker. The welding and engineering/drafting students have worked on several projects together, most recently the “LOVE” sign project on display at Council Park. “Students enjoyed seeing the project go from design (drafting class) to fabrication (welding class). The letters then went to the automotive collision repair students, who painted the letters in their paint booth. Working with different classes across a common project has been a great way to showcase how companies work together to produce and manufacture items,” says Kayla.

Drafting and design students pose for the camera.

Kayla also discussed how the simulated workplace model prepares her engineering and drafting students for work in the field. “Just as an engineer is responsible for designing the products, the engineering and drafting students meet with clients to discuss needs. They work to design possible solutions, meet with clients again to discuss, and then redesign the proposed solutions if necessary. Once a solution is approved, they build prototypes, test them out, and then complete final product builds for the client.” Kayla’s class is now working on a device to help teach PreK students how to tie their shoelaces. “Many PreK students wear Velcro or slip-on shoes, so it is difficult for everyone to practice tying laces simultaneously. These models will ensure all students can practice lace tying skills together,” she says.

What if CTE staff in other areas hesitate to try the simulated workplace model?

When asked what she would say to career and technical center staff who may not be on board with the simulated workplace model, Kayla replied, “In the career and technical education classes, why would you NOT want to participate in the simulated workplace model? You are already doing most of the protocols that align with the simulated workplace model within your Virginia CTE Competencies, so why not blend the two to give students a more real ‘hands-on’ job approach for their class experience?” she asks. “In today’s society, especially with the shortage of workers across all industries, it is our job as CTE educators to do everything we can to train the future workforce and give them all the tools we can to help them succeed. We highly recommend that other CTE programs in the area look into the simulated workplace model for ideas and practices. While it may not be 100% exactly what you need for your CTE program, you can implement what will fit your program and expand on it,” Kayla states. “It has been a game changer for our students.”

Thanks from BCCTHLC staff:

Kayla, Michelle, and Morgan would like to thank the following individuals for their support:
Tiffanie Goff (director of programs at Southwest Virginia Workforce Development Board) for introducing BCCTHLC to the simulated workplace model and facilitating the Nicholas County Career and Technical Education Center tour.
Karen Taylor (CTE supervisor of Buchanan County Public Schools) for seeing the benefit of the simulated workplace model and allowing BCPS to adapt sections of the simulated workplace model within their classrooms.
Tim Bane (principal of BCCTHLC) for allowing them to take part in the simulated workplace model.
Taylor Burgess (chief professional officer of Boys & Girls Club of Central Appalachia) for helping fund some of the initial program startups to get the simulated workplace model off the ground.
Jessica Street and Jessica Vanover of West River Conveyors for traveling with them to see the simulated workplace model in Nicholas County, being the driving force on the workforce side, and providing BCCTHLC students with job opportunities and internships.

Want more information?

If you’d like more information about implementing the simulated workplace model in your CTE center, don’t hesitate to contact our director of workforce programs, Tiffanie Goff. Assistance with implementing the simulated workplace model at BCCTHLC, including the spring 2022 tour of NCCTEC, has been made possible partly by a grant from the Thompson Charitable Foundation.