Tech programs in area high schools proving successfulLast summer a manufacturers’ committee was formed in Lake County. It consisted of school district employees, business owners, manufacturers and the Two Harbors Area Chamber of Commerce. Its mission was to address the need for local welders and millwrights to fill job vacancies.
By: LaReesa Sandretsky, Lake County News Chronicle
Last summer a manufacturers’ committee was formed in Lake County. It consisted of school district employees, business owners, manufacturers and the Two Harbors Area Chamber of Commerce. Its mission was to address the need for local welders and millwrights to fill job vacancies.
A little over a year later, those discussions were the foundation of a comprehensive plan for post-secondary education and certification within Two Harbors and William Kelley High Schools.
“We all knew this would require a Herculean effort. The obstacles were overcome because we believe in the project,” said Carol Helland, the dean of academic affairs at Mesabi Range Community and Technical College, a partner in the program.
Their effort began to bear fruit this fall in the form of a welding certification program at THHS and a millwright training program at WKHS. There, students can enroll, complete the two-year programs and fill the jobs left vacant by retirees in local manufacturing companies.
Uwe Kausch, marketing and international sales manager at Northshore Manufacturing, Inc., said he’s excited by the prospect of hiring more workers from the area.
“We want to hire local people,” Kausch said at an open house last week.
Those who collaborated on the development of the post-secondary training program came together last week for an open house at THHS. Together they celebrated their successes and got an up-close look at the fruits of their labor.
“We see this as the beginning of a strong presence on the North Shore,” said Brian Fors, provost at MRCTC.
The attendees toured the welding shop and spoke to representatives from the school district and MRCTC and other key contributors such as Arrowhead Economic Opportunity Agency—an organization that helped students reach the education level required to begin the certification programs. Some students, for example needed additional help with math or getting GEDs. The Applied Learning Institute, Northeast Higher Education District and the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board have also provided support for the program.
“My heart is leaping out of my chest…I’m a very proud partner,” said Sue Collins, president of the NHED.
The programs at THHS and WKHS are going smoothly, according to Fors. Both are at full capacity, and the students attend night classes during the week. The majority of their work consists of hands-on training.
Mike O’Donnell, an instructor who teaches entry-level welding at THHS, is particularly impressed with the students in his classroom.
“They’re phenomenal. They’re hungry. They want a change,” O’Donnell said.
Previously, students had to travel at least an hour from Two Harbors or Silver Bay to receive a post-secondary education. But the new program makes classes more accessible.
Michael Giddings is one local student. A Two Harbors resident all his life, he has tried to support his family by holding a variety of jobs over the years. Now, he’s looking for a fresh start.
“I felt like someone did this just for me,” Giddings, 34, said. Once he receives his welding certification, he’ll be looking forward to a steady, good-paying job. To some, it may seem like a humble dream, but Giddings said he’s lucky.
“You’ve given us a great opportunity and we’re so grateful,” Giddings told the audience.