Great Opportunities in Technology and Engineering Careers (GO TEC®) stimulates job growth within the commonwealth by creating dependable talent pipelines in strategic, STEM-focused sectors. A talent pathway initiative, GO TEC introduces Virginia middle school students to emerging, STEM-focused career fields through hands-on Career Connections Labs.

Public and private partnerships drive the success of this program, which is administered by the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research (IALR).

Beginning in the 2024-25 academic year, more than 9,000 students from 52 Virginia middle schools from Abingdon to Virginia Beach will interact with the GO TEC Career Connections curriculum annually.

“The core needs across Virginia and the nation are the same. We need to expose students to opportunities earlier, change parents’ mindsets about some of these opportunities, and then bring the voice of business and industry into the classroom. GO TEC is designed to do each of those things and more.”Dr. Julie Brown, Vice President of Advanced Learning, IALR

IALR serves as the fiscal agent and program lead for GO TEC, which is supported and guided by partners that include K12 school systems, higher education, industry and economic development.

GO TEC Website

Career Awareness

The primary goal of the GO TEC program is to let students experience in-demand and growing manufacturing and engineering career fields with applied learning. Each of the modules includes technology-driven hands-on learning that grows students’ awareness of available and emerging careers.

GO TEC Modules
Electrical Engineering Mechanical Engineering  Manufacturing Engineering
Automation & Robotics Welding Precision Machining
Healthcare Technologies IT Coding & Networking  Metrology

Many of the industry pathways covered in the program, such as welding and automation, require critical skills needed across various industries. Other modules, like controlled environment agriculture, are focused on a specific industry and combine various skills from other modules.

The GO TEC Career Connections program curriculum is both flexible and scalable to meet the workforce and economic development needs of participating GO Virginia regions. Each module’s equipment and content are standardized, ensuring that students across the commonwealth receive the best instruction.

A student at Gretna Middle School uses a virtual reality welding simulator as part of the GO TEC Career Connections curriculum.

Some school divisions offer GO TEC as an elective course that students can choose to take; others require that every student complete the curriculum at some point during middle school. Some divisions even have the capacity for students to have sequential experiences across multiple grade levels. It depends on the size of the individual school and the division.

IALR staff also operate the GO TEC Mobile Lab, which is equipped with all the same equipment as the middle school labs and can be utilized for teacher training or student experiences.

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A Talent Pathway

While the middle school labs are the most innovative element of the GO TEC program, the multi-region effort is about more than technology integration and early exposure.

Through partnerships with K12 school systems, higher education and industry, GO TEC is a collaborative talent pathway model that begins in middle school and continues through high school, dual enrollment and postsecondary programs.

The GO TEC Career Connections Labs introduce students to these strategic, technology-focused sectors – and help them identify the education and skills needed to pursue those careers.

Middle school students and an instructor look at a 3-d printerGO TEC uses a hub-and-spoke model to progressively generate the desired robust talent pipeline. Middle schoolers are introduced early to the occupations and base skill training in Career Connections Labs, an example of a spoke. They are then connected in high school to expanded career and technical education (CTE) courses, industry certification programs and dual-enrollment training opportunities with higher education partners. Finally, students may progress to advanced level training at a hub educational provider.

The program has proved to be an effective recruiting tool for companies interested in expanding into Southern Virginia. The effectiveness and uniqueness of the GO TEC program – and how it funnels directly into other strong workforce training programs – is a primary selling point for Southern Virginia.

The GO TEC program fits into two strategic focus areas of IALR’s Advanced Learning division: connecting students to careers and providing applied STEM education opportunities.

Expanding with Partners 

GO TEC started as a pilot program in Danville Public Schools and Pittsylvania County Schools in 2018-2019. In the six years since then, which included a pandemic, the program has effectively spread across the commonwealth. GO TEC Career Connections Labs will be in 52 Virginia middle schools in the 2024-25 academic year.

The GO TEC program is still young. The first cohort of students who experienced multiple years of the Career Connections Labs are just juniors in high school today. GO TEC staff are looking at preliminary data to determine necessary tracking measurements, students’ entry rate into CTE pathways and related career outcomes.

The growth of the GO TEC framework is the result of strong partnerships, significant investments from GO Virginia and support from three in-region coordinating entities (IRCEs) – Endless Opportunity, the Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing and Old Dominion University Research Foundation.

The program leverages $9 million in total funding from GO Virginia, along with another $11 million from localities, federal agencies and philanthropy. A $3.4 million grant from GO Virginia is driving the current expansion efforts. The program is only possible because of widespread public and private sector support. For instance, localities and school divisions invest in the equipment needed to outfit the labs at each school and provide the space and classroom teachers.