As I travel around the country I have the opportunity to see impactful Career and Technical Education (CTE) policies in action. These policies not only assist administrators and teachers in doing great things in the classroom to prepare our youth for meaningful futures, but also policies that engage employers in the preparation of our youth. Over the next few months we will take you on a journey sharing stories of state policies that are making a difference. Our first story takes us to Michigan, where profound education and industry relationships have been formed through the state’s CTE policy, House Bill 4313, that is helping seed and solidify strong industry relationships.
Copper Country Intermediate School District (CCISD) in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is one of 14 districts and intermediate districts that have been awarded $5 million grants to help ensure the success of what one area manufacturer considers the region’s biggest commodity: its CTE students.
“My customer base is on all four shores of the US and in countries around the world. But everywhere I go, there’s no people – businesses have no access to talent,” said L'Anse Manufacturing President Mark Massicotte. “These students are assets we need to capitalize on. That’s why CTE is so important.”
The CCISD was awarded a $364,000 grant for welding and manufacturing equipment from the Michigan Department of Education. Thanks to the grant and funds from a CTE millage that was passed last year, CCISD students will not only be able to continue taking courses in construction, health careers, machine tooling and auto technology this fall, but participate in new CTE programs like welding, culinary arts, computer programming, early childhood education and more.
According to CCISD CTE Director Shawn Kolbus, input from local employers like L’Anse Manufacturing was key in helping the district determine which programs to have. The district surveyed over 80 local businesses throughout Houghton, Baraga and Keweenaw counties, and learned that 62 percent of local businesses had a need for skilled labor, 54 percent thought the current CTE classes were vital to their organizations and 46 percent stated more CTE classes were needed.
“When we first were planning for the welding class, welding skills were our focus,” Kolbus. “But after meeting with business and industry, it became apparent that these companies don’t just hire welders – they hire people who can manufacture and create things.”
An expanded CTE program is just one result of the grant funding and the millage, which will levy $1.2 million for 10 years. Renovations on the district’s CTE center are underway, and the district is preparing to offer new work-based learning opportunities. Teachers and counselors will be able to participate in externships and see first-hand the specific skills that area businesses need, and earn professional development credit in the process. Without the support from private businesses in the area, these opportunities wouldn’t be available.
“We’ve had a lot of support from the community, and business and industry,” said Kolbus. “When the grant opportunity came up, we had 18 different manufacturing companies sign letters of support. In my opinion, that’s one of the biggest factors in us getting that award, that partnership we had with businesses.”
According to Massicotte, who is also a member of the Michigan Works! Workforce Development Board and chairman of the Workforce Development Board for the UPWARD Talent Council of Michigan Works!, the skills CTE students learn are critical for the success of the entire community. The programs allow students to learn the academic, technical and employability skills they need to succeed while giving them the chance to experiment with what they want to do and discover what actually happens on the job. L'Anse Manufacturing has committed to offering a four-year apprenticeship program that will enable students to earn industry-recognized certificates. The company also offers a second-year machining program where students work on-site for two hours each day, plus work-based learning and job shadowing opportunities.
"When the private sector gets involved with programs at the school and throw some validity and dedicated outcomes into the mix, the participants see that, and they’ll show up with a different perspective," said Massicotte, who was awarded the 2017 Community Leadership Award for his support of CCISD’s CTE program improvement efforts. “CTE is critical as we train these young people to work.”
Doug Jurmu is president of Royale Incorporated, which has provided machining, fabrication and engineering services to the area for over three decades. His support for CCISD includes curriculum development and the establishment of a machine shop.
“We struggle to hire machinists and fabricators,” said Jurmu. “We could find more work very easily, but we need to be able to do it, too. So when it comes to the CTE programs that Copper Country ISD is trying to implement next year, well, it will be a win-win for all involved.”
CCISD spans three counties and serves nine high schools. According to Kolbus, the district is expecting enrollment to more than double. CCISD also plans to offer adult classes, including welding and manufacturing, and Kolbus is reaching out to local manufacturers to see if they have any training needs the district can help fulfill.
"The benefits of all this will go well beyond what we're seeing now,” said Kolbus. “These local manufacturers know we're producing students who could become their employees. I can't stress enough not only how important these businesses are, but how receptive they've been to what we're trying to do."
By Timm Boettcher, President & CEO, Realityworks, Inc.