A new generation of students has found the fast track to the high-tech manufacturing jobs of the future by simultaneously completing their high school education while also taking technical college programming. This non-traditional, dual enrollment course of study provides students with a significant head start on their post-secondary education and the opportunity to start a trade apprenticeship upon graduation from high school.
“High school students who dual enroll can bypass the typical four-year college route to receive employable skills that can lead to a high-paying job right out of high school,” said Jim Warren, director of education for the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association (FMA). “It’s an effective course of study that can jump start a skilled labor career in a lucrative field that continues to experience a shortage of workers.”
Two students exemplify this movement that literally transcends North American borders – Brennan Palmiter of Ormond Beach, Fla., and Mitch Thygesen of Langley, British Columbia, Canada. Both concurrently enrolled in high school and in industrial training at a local technical school and are poised to succeed in the trade arena.
Teen race car driver Palmiter began racing go-karts when he was seven years old and currently races stock cars at New Smyrna Speedway in New Smyrna Beach, Fla. He took a keen interest in welding and metal fabricating at a young age.
“When I was in fourth grade, a representative from a local tech college visited my school and told us if we wrote an essay on why technology was important we might be selected to visit the school’s campus,” said Palmiter. “I submitted my essay and was picked to go.
“The experience was incredible. They were making things and fixing things and doing projects that really looked fun. When I got home I told my parents I’d found a school I wanted to attend, and we began planning my education that day,” he added.
Upon completion of grade school, Palmiter and his father discovered a dual enrollment program, offered by Volusia County Schools, that allows students to enroll at both a county high school and a participating college or university in courses such as welding, nursing, culinary arts, computer programming, and a number of other industries seeking skilled workers.
Palmiter started dual enrollment in his sophomore year of high school, taking night classes toward his vocational certificate in welding. In his junior year, he began taking college courses that counted toward both his high school graduation requirements and his Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degree.
In May 2009, Palmiter graduated from Seabreeze High School in Daytona Beach, Fla., completing a full 24-credit, four-year program in just three years, with a vocational certificate in welding technology and is proficient in more than four specialized welding processes. In the fall, he will complete his AAS degree in Industrial Management Technology – one semester before most students complete high school.
“I expect to find a job and be paid well for my skills,” said Palmiter. “I read many help wanted ads for certified welders and inspectors. I encourage young people to consider dual enrollment because they can get a college degree in less time than it would take them to receive a regular high school diploma.”
Palmiter’s welding skills eventually won him the attention and eventual sponsorship of the FMA. Today, Palmiter serves as the youth spokesperson for the FMA and its foundation, Nuts, Bolts & Thingamajigs (NBT). Palmiter regularly speaks to youth groups and students about his involvement in welding and about vocational programs and careers in the trades.
Palmiter also helps motivate young people interested in the trades through the “GO-Brennan” Scholarships program coordinated by NBT. Palmiter appears in a clever, engaging four-minute video on YouTube inviting high school, trade school and college students to apply for the scholarships by posting their own video.
An ‘ACE’ Student
Mitch Thygesen, a high school student from Langley, British Columbia, Canada, is another example of a dual enrolled student who is preparing himself for a career in the trades. Thygesen participates in the Accelerated Credit Enrollment in Industry Training (ACE-IT) program at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in Surrey, British Columbia. Kwantlen is one of 20 FMA Certified Education Centers across North America recognized as offering exemplary programs, facilities and instruction in the metal forming industry. Thygesen chose Kwantlen to receive hands-on training in metal fabrication and learn practical skills.
“I discovered the Kwantlen ACE-IT program through a career fair at my local high school,” said Thygesen. “This direct outreach by teachers from the local trade school played a major role in my choosing this career path.”
ACE-IT funding from the Industry Training Authority (ITA) allows school districts in British Columbia to organize partnership agreements with post-secondary institutions. Kwantlen partners with the ITA to provide students in grades 11 and 12 the opportunity to study in post-secondary trades and technology courses prior to completing high school, and earn credits to further pursue an apprenticeship or a credential from the university. The majority of these partnership programs are trade related and vary from 20 to 40 weeks requiring students to register in an apprenticeship training component after completion.
“ACE-IT gives students a unique opportunity to gain the necessary skills to enter into a dynamic metal fabrication career,” said Robert Finlayson, Kwantlen metal fabrication faculty. “It has really evolved into a popular partnership since its inception, with several hundred students in a number of program areas participating each year.”
Kwantlen offers school districts two delivery models for high school students to complete these types of programs by grade 12. One allows the high school students to arrange their school timetable to provide full-time attendance at Kwantlen. The second enables the school district to deliver the majority of the curriculum content for that program at an identified school within a school district.
“ACE-IT provides students across the school system with a number of employable skills and technical skills that most high schools don‟t offer,” said Finlayson. “These programs provide students like Mitch with a significant head start on their post-secondary education and a significant opportunity in starting an apprenticeship by the time they finish high school.” In an interesting coincidence, Thygesen recently was the recipient of a spring 2009 “GO-Brennan” Scholarship.
Reaching Today’s Youth
Myriad opportunities for young people in the trades are available now and will continue to be available in the future. In 2010, 40 percent of the American workforce will be eligible to retire. The average age of a manufacturing employee is 55, and between the years 2010 and 2020 there will be an unprecedented shortage of skilled workers who need to be replaced. While dual enrollment programs are in place to prepare the future skilled work force, many are unaware of their existence.
“Often, the challenge for students and parents is learning about the programs such as dual enrollment that are already in place,” said FMA’s Warren.
One major roadblock is that educators today rarely position manufacturing as a preferred career choice. Similarly, the K-12 system neither adequately imparts the necessary skills nor educates students on manufacturing career opportunities. Shop classes on the high school level have all but disappeared, and high school counselors often direct their students to the typical four-year university program without considering manufacturing. In addition, parents rarely encourage manufacturing as a career to children.
Helping to fill this gap and spark more interest in the trades, NBT also provides grants to nonprofit organizations and educational institutions that offer overnight or day camps to introduce young people to careers in manufacturing and engineering.
“There are thousands of kids like me who have no interest in becoming a lawyer, doctor or accountant and are not interested in the choices they have been given,” said Palmiter. “The thought of four more years of school work is not of interest, but they do enjoy working with their hands and might be interested in a career in manufacturing if they had access to information about these types of jobs.”
Educators, parents, teachers and counselors can assist by encouraging students to consider alternative post-secondary programs, and informing them of the many well-paid and rapidly increasing manufacturing jobs that remain unfilled, including positions requiring two- and four-year technical degrees or short-term skill certificates.
“High school counselors should begin at the middle school level to assess where students‟ interests and natural talents lie,” said Warren. “This option may help identify kids who would benefit from an educational track based around a vocational course of study. Interested students and parents should conduct research to identify dual enrollment programs offered in their area.
“As young people recognize the exciting potential to work with the most advanced technologies, in a clean, comfortable environment, and receive a high level of wage commensurate with the high skills required, we will begin to see a revitalization in the manufacturing sector,” added Warren.