Iron Range tech certification comes to North ShoreThis fall, graduates of Two Harbors High School and William Kelley High School in Silver Bay who aren’t planning on immediately entering the workforce or attending a four-year college will have another option closer to home.
By: LaReesa Sandretsky, for the News-Chronicle
Given the economic climate of the past few years, it could be a surprise to find out that North Shore companies continue to struggle to find qualified employees to fill out their ranks.
A partnership developed last summer between an area college and local high schools is intended to fix the gap.
This fall, graduates of Two Harbors High School and William Kelley High School in Silver Bay who aren’t planning on immediately entering the workforce or attending a four-year college will have another option closer to home. Mesabi Range Community and Technical College, with campuses in Eveleth and Virginia, will offer a two-year welding certification program in Two Harbors and a millwright program in Silver Bay.
Classes will also be available for older workers who want to enhance their skill set.
The initial idea came from the Two Harbors Area Chamber of Commerce and it manufacturers committee, chamber president Gordy Anderson said.
The committee included school district employees, business owners, manufacturers, and the chamber.
The issue that consistently came up was workforce development, Anderson said.
“There weren’t enough qualified employees to fill open positions,” he said.
Through a partnership with Mesabi, the high schools already offer college-level welding and technical math classes that students can take as part of their high school education. Thanks to grants, these programs will remain and won’t be replaced by the certification program.
The current classes offer an introduction to the industry while the new certification programs are designed for career preparation.
“The era of tradesmen is not what it used to be,” Anderson said. “We have good paying jobs. We just can’t find the qualified employees.”
The programs will be funded by Mesabi, grants, and tuition paid by students. Both high schools already have facilities for the courses and the college will provide necessary equipment updates and hire new faculty to teach at the high schools.
Students will pay standard tuition, which is currently about $2,500 per semester.
“It is a duplication of the program at our school. They will have the same tuition and student services as the students of the Eveleth campus,” Mesabi’s dean of academic affairs, Carol Helland, said.
The millwright and welding programs have a long history at Mesabi. The instructors collaborate with industry professionals to ensure that the programs are up-to-date and that graduates are prepared to directly enter the workforce, Hellan said.
Millwrights typically construct and maintain machinery while welders join metals or thermoplastics using high-heat technology. Graduates of the current programs at Mesabi are employed all over the state, with a significant number in cities on the Iron Range such as Virginia and Hibbing. Local options are also plentiful.
“In Silver Bay, there’s North Shore Mining and what we’re hearing is there is going to be significant retirements in the next three to five years,” Helland said. “That market is very viable. With LaBounty and other industries in Two Harbors, there is a need for a qualified work force.”
The plan is to bring the programs closer to prospective students so it will increase attendance.
There was an informational meeting on the program Tuesday in Silver Bay. There will be another in Two Harbors in June.
Registration meetings will follow sometime this summer and students can then sign up for the programs. More information on the Mesabi’s programs can be found at www.mesabirange.edu.
“If you develop partnerships you can have a positive result,” Anderson said. “This fall, when these classes are up and running, it’ll be a great testimonial to what a community partnership can do.”
Matt Quaas, a 2005 graduate of Two Harbors, said he would have gone through the new program.
He found work as a welder after high school because of the advanced welding classes he had taken in Two Harbors. He switched careers in 2009 but said he would have taken the advanced level of training that a certification program would have offered.
“The classes at THHS were pretty much a little more than basic welding, and my co-workers got pretty frustrated,” Quaas said.