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Teaching Trades: Inspiring the next generation of trade workers

DULUTH, MN — Duluth is facing a labor shortage, and Lake Superior College officials say this is due to more people in the industry retiring, and more students attending four-year colleges over trade schools.

With summer construction season quickly approaching, a unique partnership hopes to recruit new hires.

In Donald Simons’ workshop at Duluth East High School, students are taught skills they don’t learn in a traditional classroom. In first period manufacturing, students learn wood-working, machining, and welding while earning credits toward high school graduation, but that’s not all.

Through a partnership with Lake Superior College, students earn dual credits toward a future education at the trade college.

Simons said the need for these skills is strong.

“There are so many manufacturers that are looking for welders, construction, machinists,” Simons said. “We need kids to do trades. We still need those hardcore jobs. Those are the people that make the world go around.”

With graduation only a few weeks away, Seniors at Duluth East are busy planning their futures.

And for some, a career in the trade industry is part of that blueprint.

Nicole Okstad with Lake Superior College said that’s where the high school’s partnership with LSC and federal grant funding come into play.

“We saw a need in the tech-ed classes in the local high schools that they didn’t have the equipment,” Okstad said. “With that funding, we brought our equipment that the high schoolers can use. They can rent it and use it and build a curriculum around it.”

Along with learning new skills and completing high school requirements, students also earn dual college credit at LSC.

Which can save a lot of money.

“At Lake Superior College, you go there and get a two-year degree, so in two years you can come out and it will maybe cost you $10,000,” Simons said. “A four-year college you figure you come out and owe $40,000.”

That was a selling point for Okstad who graduation from LSC in 2017.

“We’re really affordable and two years go by really quick and before you know it their third-semester jobs are already asking them to come work and they’re getting hired,” Okstad said. “There’s a great demand there.”

There’s also a demand for women working in the industry and Senior Andrea Sas is ready to pick up the torch.

“My grandfather was actually a welder,” Sas said. “He worked on welding pipelines and I was kind of interested in welding when my teacher said ‘Hey, I think this student would be interested’ and he signed me up.”

As the next generation of manufacturers begin their training, Okstad hopes high school programs, like the one in Mr. Simons’ workshop, will inspire more students to pursue this career.

“If they’ve never gotten to try it and then they try it you see that they think maybe this is a career or maybe this is something I could do for a living,” Okstad said.

As the program continues to grow, LSC hopes to send more equipment and offer professional development for teachers.

That way they can expand programs and curriculum development for future students.

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Emma Rechenberg

Morning Anchor

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