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Hands-on trades training before graduation

M-TEC outfits students with job skills

GRCC, Kentwood — After three months in Grand Rapids Community College’s Leslie E. Tassell M-TEC program, Crossroads Alternative High School junior Sebastian Edmaiston has discovered his passion for welding. 

The program partners with community businesses and industries to offer workforce training for skilled trade jobs in high demand. For these high school students, it offers the opportunity to gain skills in construction and welding before they graduate. 

“My grandpa used to be a welder, and I started learning from him when I was 4 years old,” he said. “It runs in our family.”

In the welding lab, Sebastian recently worked with senior Jahan Likely to learn the proper technique for welding, or bonding two metals by melting them where they meet so they form a secure joint.

Javon used one of several of M-TEC’s welding machines to fuse his two pieces of metal together. Then he and Sebastian explained why they dunked the final product in water to cool and strengthen the bond.

On Fridays, 17 juniors and seniors from Crossroads visit the workforce training department to work alongside GRCC instructors and eventually earn certificates in construction basics and gas metal arc welding. 

Principal Ian Gibson said Crossroads started the partnership with GRCC during the 2018-19 school year, but the coronavirus pandemic put it on hold the following year. The program resumed in January. 

Students must meet the minimum amount of credits and the age requirement to apply.  From there, they are interviewed and selected by the school’s Workforce Friday Leadership Team before they can enroll at GRCC.

“To watch our own kids get hands-on training in welding and carpentry, this is amazing,” Gibson said. “We really want our students to earn their certifications in an industry that prepares them for life after graduation.”

Next year, Gibson said they plan to enroll more students in the program, including a class to receive automotive training. GRCC’s new Center for Automation is also planned to start operating in time for the winter 2023 semester.

“Students discovering their newly found passion has transferred into the classroom and student motivation has increased,” he said. “We look forward to continuing and growing this partnership next year.”

Learning How to Do the Job

Senior Alyssa Meyer said she was nervous and excited about her upcoming graduation. Her plans include a move to another state to pursue a job in construction.

“This program gives you experience to take you to a higher level of skills for a higher level job,” she said. “With these certifications, you’re starting out with more knowledge than someone else also looking for a job.” 

M-TEC program instructor Steven Ray told Alyssa and her peers to “get a piece of pine” and he would show them how to patch a hole in drywall in the construction workshop. 

“Find a square of drywall that size you need, measure and cut it,” Ray said. “If it’s the wrong size, start over.” 

Alyssa gave a tour of the room model her class built and continued working in throughout the semester, everything from the walls to drywall and paint. She explained the floorplan and where the bathroom and closet would be when the room is completed. 

“We put all the drywall up and door frames last week, and today we’re learning to fix holes in the drywall,” she said. “Then we’re going to put the doors in the room.”

As Ray reminded his students as they worked to install patio doors, “This is all part of being a carpenter, having all the tools you need for the job.” 

Added Alyssa: “We come in, and they teach us how it’s done. If we need help, (Ray) helps and critiques us so we do it right the next time.”

Read more from GRCC: 
Learning about the art of the possible 
Whitmer touts ‘a path for everyone to prosperity’ in GRCC visit

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Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark is a reporter covering Byron Center, Caledonia, Godfrey-Lee, Kenowa Hills and Thornapple Kellogg. She grew up in metro Detroit and her journalism journey brought her west to Grand Rapids via Michigan State University where she covered features and campus news for The State News. She also co-authored three 100-question guides to increase understanding and awareness of various human identities, through the MSU School of Journalism. Following graduation, she worked as a beat reporter for The Ann Arbor News, covering stories on education, community, prison arts and poetry, before finding her calling in education reporting and landing at SNN. Alexis is also the author of a poetry chapbook, “Learning to Sleep in the Middle of the Bed.”


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