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Kettle Moraine pilot program taps into kids' technical side

Jan. 28, 2013

A dozen Kettle Moraine High School students - seven juniors and five seniors - walked into Generac in Eagle on Tuesday, embarking on a new educational path that will give them a KMHS diploma, along with an advanced manufacturing certificate, work experience and potentially open doors.

Second Chance Partners for Ecuation (SCPFE) is partnering with the KM School District, GE's Waukesha gas engines (General Electric), Generac Power Systems and Waukesha County Technical Institute (WCTC) to launch the pilot program for the second semester. The pilot, the Advanced Manufacturing Certificate Pathway, is a traditional education experience that leverages partnerships among local businesses, local high schools and the local technical college along with SCPFE. It's designed to provide students who have an interest in technical careers with the ability to earn transcripted credits at postsecondary schools along with valuable work experience.

"We knew there was a big need from our business partners in manufacturing for qualified workers, and there was a disconnect in the way that we were able to prepare students for those opportunities," explained KMSD Superintendent Pat Deklotz. "We looked at how to help students understand opportunities that were available, get real-life experience, work experience, mentoring and still attain that KM diploma, but a KM diploma with an advanced manufacturing certificate."

The idea came together in a perfect storm of legislative talk about closing the manufacturing gap, industries looking for skilled workers and being able to keep up with changing technology - an area that creates financial strain on schools, and a model provided by SCPFE.

While SCPFE has been around for 12 years, this is a new initiative, said Andy Hepburn, program director for SCPFE. The manufacturing certificate targets the advanced skill set, not just students working to get a high school diploma, Hepburn noted.

Typical day

Students in the pilot spend four hours working and three hours in class, Hepburn explained.

Positions are job-shared, so two students occupy one position. One group starts the day at 7 a.m. with the educational component and later transitions to work, while the other group starts work in the morning and later moves into the classroom. The classroomhas a dedicated instructor available all day, as well as a facilitator from WCTC who teaches specific technical courses.

Businesses provide resources and pay students. Students earn a little income while gaining valuable training, Hepburn continued.

Winning combination

Businesses view the opportunity as a long interview, said Hepburn. Additionally, at the end of the two-year commitment from the business, there will be a scholarship funded by the business partner.

"We knew we needed a partner in this area that was vested," said Deklotz. "We're very aware of the skills gap. It's not simply an assembly line position or a welding position. There are a wide range of opportunities in manufacturing in Waukesha County."

KMHS teacher Chris Reis who has helped with the pilot, toured Generac.

"It's clear these are advanced technician jobs. There is a lot of computer technology on the floor," Reis pointed out. "I think when students and parents walk through and see all that technology, that is an important part in getting across to the community at large what Wisconsin manufacturing is looking like in this day and age."

KMHS Principal Jeff Walters said the goal is to provide industry with people ready to transition into employment opportunities and give students real-life work experience plus opportunity provided by a technical school.

"This is really kind of a transformational educational model. We're not using traditional direct instruction modeling," said Hepburn. "This is project based.

"Students are engaged. It really pushes people's understanding of education, not only what we're doing, but the innovation that Kettle Moraine brings and also WCTC and how they worked to make this happen."

Manufacturing Skill Standards Council certification is built into the program - certification that businesses encourage employees to attain and that could open doors to employment for students, Deklotz said.

While some people may see an associate degree or manufacturing as an end, the program provides steps students can follow to get to their career of choice.

"We're giving students additional opportunities," said Reis. "It's not locking into any one vocational path. It's not locked into manufacturing."

"We are creating a new pathway for high school students that allows them to become immersed in the workplace as they learn new marketable skills," added Denine Rood, WCTC vice president of learning. "This will provide them with a launching pad for lifelong learning as well as help them build their resume."

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