Rethinking shop & trade classes

August 11, 2017 | Rethinking shop and trade classes


When the welding class at West Delaware needed updated equipment, the business community came through in a big way, donating more than $50,000 worth of welders.

And when Johnston High School opens its new building this fall, shop students will have new equipment courtesy of Iowa businesses.

It’s partnerships such as these that have updated Iowa’s shop and industrial arts classes in many school districts across the state and given students the equipment to develop the skills they need to become the next generation of skilled workers.

Efforts to educate students and expose them to different careers associated with the trades and manufacturing have paid dividends in the state. Advanced manufacturing enrollment increased 14 percent from 2014 to 2015 in Iowa’s community colleges, said Alex Monaghan, the program coordinator for Elevate Advanced Manufacturing, a statewide marketing initiative to promote careers and educational pathways into advanced manufacturing.

Much of this is a result of the efforts to change the image of manufacturing. Elevate Iowa works to change the perception of manufacturing careers and address misconceptions related to the work environment, safety and wages. Elevate works with students in grades kindergarten through 12, as well as teachers and parents. One aspect of this includes work-based learning programs for high school students where they can visit manufacturing facilities and learn firsthand about the industry.

“It’ll give them an idea of what the program is all about, and then go to the community college and get their degree,” Monaghan said. “It’s helping to fill the skill gap by starting them at a younger age and seeing what else is out there. A lot of people aren’t familiar with the industry and aren’t familiar with what is on the floor of a manufacturer.”

Business owners reached out to Seth Harms in the early 2000s during his first year of teaching welding class at West Delaware. They needed more skilled workers to fill jobs at their manufacturing plants and wanted to know if Harms and the school would teach a continuing education class through Northeast Iowa Community College in Calmar.

The result was a trifecta partnership among the business community, West Delaware High School and NICC. Harms now teaches a couple of night classes a week for adults who are displaced from their jobs, underemployed or unemployed. Students at West Delaware also can obtain 11 credits toward the NICC welding certicate diploma program.

“A lot of my students get hired right out of high school that decide to go into welding,” Harms said.

West Delaware students have access to more than a dozen multi-process welders and some of the newest welding technology. Some of the school’s equipment also was donated from NICC.

“We started from what you would conceive as a normal high school shop class to a pretty skilled welding program,” Harms said.

Welding class attendance has more than doubled, but some of that is a result of a shorter program – nine weeks versus 18. Students also have access to business people through collaborative efforts in which businesses help in the shop class a couple of times a week.


Educators and business leaders discovered they needed to provide those who were out of work or unemployed, as well as high school students, other options beyond attendance at a college or university.

Community colleges began to look at what job areas needed workers and the skills those workers needed to fulfill the jobs. This was one of the reasons NICC created its Career Pathway Certicates. Most can be completed in less than 12 months and provide students with job skills and hands-on training for entry-level jobs or with educate they can transfer to a degree or diploma program.

“We now have more pathways in place with the intention that every student in high school should have some career or technical exposure,” said Kathleen Nacos- Burds, the vice president of learning and student success at NICC.

NICC has more than 46 career pathway certificates or courses for which the student can receive credits. Students, regardless of age, have the option to go straight to work, continue their education for a degree or transfer to a four-year college. This has given people who were out of the workforce an opportunity to gain new skills and seek new employment. About 50 percent of NICC’s enrollment is concurrent enrollment of students who are in high school and taking NICC courses or programs.

As opportunities expanded, so has student interest: 840 students attended Career Pathways in 2016, compared with 585 in 2012.

“It’s the hands-on being able to get to learn that trade, but also getting them out and being able to show them the great opportunities that are out there,” said Wendy Mihm-Herold, vice president of business and community solutions. “It’s totally changed their attitude because now they know what is available.”

Part of the process has been identifying skill sets for job areas that need workers, and then working with educators and others to find students interested in those careers, Nacos-Burds said.

“We’re working to do career coaching and career counseling,” she said. “We’re trying to empower counselors in our high schools to look at skill sets and where (the student wants) to be and what pleases (him or her).”

It’s important youth have skills that will serve them for a lifetime and prepare them for careers they may not have even considered, Nacos-Burds said.

Partnerships among workforce development, economic development leaders, educators, business people and more have been vital to developing the career pathways and the skill sets associated with them, Mihm-Herold said.

“It’s a unified approach for how we build the human capital in the community,” she said.


There is more support from the business community for the welding program at West Delaware than Harms can even utilize, he said.

West Delaware Superintendent Kristen Rickey and Harms met with members of the business community several years ago when the school needed to update its welding equipment. The business leaders asked Harms what he needed. He explained he would like seven welders that would cost about $49,000. By the end of the meeting, the equipment had been donated to the school.

“This is so important to the community, and they have so much respect for what Seth does and so much support for our students,” Rickey said. “Just saying to the community: ‘We need $50,000 worth of the welders,’ and we had them by the end of the meeting.”

Kreg Tool Co. in Huxley is a strong supporter of efforts that enhance academic and technical learning.

Recently, the company donated a router and router table for Johnston High School’s new industrial arts area. The request fit with the company’s Kreg Cares program and its area of giving toward education. The company supports causes that further academic or technical learning, said Melany Stonewall, the company’s strategic communications manager.

The company also donated about $60,000 in equipment to Ballard High School’s industrial arts program a couple of years ago that includes woodworking equipment and a 3-dimensional printer.

“We did that over a few years to help launch the vision and reignite the program,” Todd Sommerfeld, the executive chairman of Kreg Tool, said. “When people reach out to us to enhance a program at the high school, we typically respond.”

The company also has worked with high schools in Oregon and Denver to improve equipment and classroom curriculum.

Kreg is now working with seven school districts through the Story County Active Learning Experience (SCALE) to launch a program for high school students to work with various companies in a partnership to receive real-life skills and work experience.

Sommerfeld said he supports partnerships between business and education because he thinks working in the trades creates a sense of accomplishment when one sees what they have created. His company’s focus is on creating this same sense for its custom-ers, but it needs the workers to do that.

“Because of selling into the trades and working with manufacturing, we see a real lack of focus and effort on education around the trades,” he said. “We feel a core responsibility to go and highlight that and really market the value of trades and the value of manufacturing and shed a different light on it.”


Sommerfeld and Kreg also have been supporters of Elevate Iowa. He was a member of the steering committee, and his company has opened its doors to parents and students to learn more about a manufacturing facility.

“We wanted to change the perceptions for students, but even more importantly, for the parents,” he said. “Those things make a big impact as people leave here. It’s really engaging industry to open their doors and invite people in, and give them a realistic view of what’s going on.”

This is part of Elevate’s Manufacturing Day in October. Manufacturers in Iowa’s 99 counties host tours to educate students, parents and teachers, and to show them what a manufacturing facility looks like.

Elevate’s efforts also happen inside the classroom. It introduced eduFACTOR this school year. These online videos help teachers educate their students about the manufacturing industry and show it in action. The videos use real-life manufacturers and show how they use technology and resources to make the careers relevant to students and their parents.

Through a collaboration with the Iowa Newspaper Association and teacher Alecia Rahn-Blakeslee, Elevate developed a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) curriculum that meet Iowa core requirements. It is available through its website and gives educators examples for how to bring advanced manufacturing skills and lessons into the classroom. In the past four years, the curriculum has been distributed to more than 70,000 educators, parents and community members, Monaghan said.