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Skilled Trades Fair Offers New Opportunities

Four days after Derek Mabie turned 18 he started working at Swoboda, a Kentwood-based automotive parts manufacturer.

Since then, Mabie, a tool-room technician, has nearly completed an apprenticeship program through Grand Rapids Community College, 100 percent-employer sponsored by Swoboda, to receive his journeyman license. He’s climbed up the company’s pay scale, which ranges from $14 per hour to the upper $20s per hour. Now he’s considering continuing his education to become an engineer.

The Grandville High School graduate shared information with students at the recent Byron Center High School College and Skilled Trades Fair, where about 20 colleges and 20 skilled trade representatives met with students to answer questions and encourage applications for college or jobs.

The goal was to offer a road map for students to a fulfilling career whether through a four-year degree or training for a trade. Byron Center staff members emphasized there are several routes to degrees and jobs that offer good pay and growth. The school has hosted the college fair for four years, but added the skilled-trade section this year. Many businesses offer employment for in-demand jobs and tuition reimbursement or full sponsorship.

“This year we’ve had such an interest and demand in skilled trades that we added this,” said Wade Zeilenga, high school guidance counselor. “We tell kids, ‘Your next step is something after high school. It’s not enough to have a high-school diploma,’ What I say is, ‘You need a high-school diploma, comma. What’s going to come after that?’ For some it’s going to be a four-year degree, for some it’s going to be a skilled trade.”

Seniors Tom Nguyen and Izzy Castillo are thinking about merging both. They picked up information from Kerkstra Precast, a Grandville-based concrete products firm and other companies in order to apply for internships and summer jobs they can do in tandem with working toward four-year engineering degrees.

Tom said he hopes this route minimizes costs and gives him experience.

“My hope right now is to find an internship that supports my career,” said Tom, who plans to go to Grand Valley State University for mechanical engineering.

Izzy said his plan is to find a job to that will show him the real-world of civil engineering while he attends Western Michigan University. “I want to get my feet wet,” he said.

Marine Corps recruiters Arthur Hoskins and Gunny Nunez shared information on the 85 skilled trades Marines can specialize in
Marine Corps recruiters Arthur Hoskins and Gunny Nunez shared information on the 85 skilled trades Marines can specialize in

Connecting Students with the Work Force

STEM and advanced drafting teacher Lary Shoemaker ran a program in the early 2000s called “Bridging the Gap Between Education and Industry,” but it lost steam with the economic downturn and hemorrhaging of manufacturing jobs.

“This is bridging the gap reincarnate,” he said of the fair. “It is the idea of making sure these companies know what our student population looks like prior to graduation. This way, they can connect with students who have an interest in engineering or manufacturing.

“Why not connect the dots and bridge the gap? It’s our future generation of workers meeting their future employers.”

Shoemaker said there’s a better route to a good job for many students than starting college without a plan.

“There are twothings I talk to my kids about. No 1., you need to have higher education, that’s a must,” he said. “No 2., the key is to find a company that is willing to pay for your education that is under your umbrella of interest and will give you the experience so that when you do graduate you have a job, you have college that is 100 percent paid for, and you also have experience.”


Forbes Article on Skilled Trade Job Shortage

Are Skilled Trades Becoming Lost Arts?

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio or email Erin.


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