Apr 15, 2013 at 8:59 am
SARTELL, Minn. (KNSI) - The central Minnesota manufacturing sector may be thriving, but local high schools - and the businesses that support them - remain in a struggle to keep shop classes intact and growing.
According to recent statewide education studies, technology education teachers and courses are declining in public schools around the state.
Joe Schulte is a technology education teacher for Sartell High School. He's also a graduate of St. Cloud State University, the only school currently training future shop teachers.
In his 10+ year career in the St. Cloud area, Schulte has trained students in pre-engineering, wood and metal fabrication, construction, mechanics and, most recently, audio and video production.
Schulte says, while Sartell High School continues to grow in total enrollment, the amount of students signing up for courses within the tech ed department is on the decline.
Schulte says it's not an issue of qualified teachers - it's the fact that shop classes aren't being promoted or prioritized by school districts as viable career-based education.
"This is a need in the community and the state - a growing need," Schulte says. "We would like to say, more than anything, that we create the awareness for students on how to transition from a high school experience into a real-world job. We may not give student the skills to walk directly into a manufacturing job, but they will become exposed to the opportunities, many of which include further education."
Statistically speaking, technology education classes lead to strong, sustainable careers; according to a recent state workforce council on employment study, 85% of trained machinists find work upon graduation from a two-year tech program, with the average salary starting around $50,000.
Still, Schulte says a handful of his upper level courses, including custom wood fabrication, mechanics and construction, are facing elimination in the next couple of years.
Schulte says, most times, high school students are funneled into a standard, college-preparatory track without being given the chance to evaluate the varied and long-term career opportunities in the manufacturing world.
So, he's worked closely with local companies to augment his curriculum with trending industry needs - including one company just down the road.
Scott DeZurik, production director at internationally-known valve maker DeZurik, says many of their machinists have been employed for 30-40 years.
As a result, those long-time employees are on the edge of retirement.
Dezurik says it's hard to find qualified machinists right now - in a recent search via the website careerbuilder.com, they received a total of zero applicants for positions that start at over $50,000 a year.
While the recession did impact DeZurik's hiring several years ago, the trend has reversed and need is growing. As a result, DeZurik says they routinely expose Schulte's students to careers through tours.
"These students have been driving by the company for years, without knowing what goes on inside," DeZurik says. "So, by giving these tours to the tech program, they get that insight - and they're amazed by all the creation and engineering. It's far beyond just assembling
DeZurik says they've pitched in by offering current Sartell and other area students the chance to earn $10 an hour through summer internships, performing real industry work.
"They're going to help create manufacturing documents, working closely with the machinists, doing some light-duty programming on the floor," DeZurik says. "We have a lot of programs our manufacturing engineers are so busy with, they may not get to everything. So, these students will be providing real support. It's also a great look into the day-to-day - this is real life, this is how the job works."
Last year, the students saw a wide range of those jobs - Schulte's classes took a total of 18 tours at local manufacturing companies.
"We're working on DeZurik valves. We're working with Engel Metallugical's testing materials," Schulte says." It's hands-on. And we have students going right into the workforce. We see the spectrum."
Last year, production occupations in Minnesota had the second highest vacancy rate, with a salary growth rate of nearly 30 percent.
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