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August 29 2016

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Trades Career Academy tackles skills shortage

West De Pere High School was recently reviewing its tech education curriculum and invited 18 area business owners and supervisors to offer feedback. Russ Gerke, principal at West De Pere High School, explains he heard over and over how these businesses were struggling to find skilled workers.

Gerke had discussions with the district superintendent and reached out to Nick Joseph, principal at De Pere High School, to determine what the schools could do to help fill the employment gap. At this same time, Belmark Inc., a De Pere business, was looking for opportunities to connect with students. They came up with the idea of establishing Trades Career Academy — a partnership with local businesses and educational institutions to provide educational programming for students along with an introduction to real-world trade career opportunities.

“We wanted to expose students to different trades and different careers that they were considering but weren’t sure,” adds Joseph. “And, we believed that the De Pere school district, West De Pere school district and area businesses working together would be a fantastic fit.”

When it came time to establish the program and tackle the youth apprenticeship paperwork, Gerke looked to David Schultz, Youth Apprenticeship manager at the Greater Green Bay Chamber. Trades Career Academy was set up as an extension of the Youth Apprenticeship program.

“We are drawing on David’s expertise with the Youth Apprenticeship program to ensure our students will be placed in the right environment and to make sure the participating businesses provide the types of experiences students should receive,” says Gerke.

“Russ and I know a lot about our school and how schools function, but we aren’t as familiar with how businesses function. Having David and Belmark on board has been tremendous as we establish the program,” adds Joseph.

Trades Career Academy will begin at the start of the 2016/2017 school year. The program will consist of 11 students between the two schools.

Participating high school juniors and seniors will be instructed by a full-time certified teacher at Belmark for two hours each morning before heading to their job site for on-thejob training. Apprentices will earn the credits needed to meet high school graduation requirements. Northeast Wisconsin Technical College (NWTC) agreed to help with the continuing education component, offering courses that correspond to the various trades fields.

Joseph suggests the program is designed for students who want to work in the trades and are anxious to get to work.

Gerke believes Trades Career Academy students will benefit from the authentic experience. He says, “They are going to learn about the applicability of their classes — why measurement is important in geometry class. They’ll also discover why it’s important to arrive to work on time, to dress properly and to act appropriately in the workplace.”

The focus of Trades Career Academy is to fill the skills gaps within De Pere-based businesses. The first participants include Belmark, Romo Durable Graphics, Vos Electric, Best Built, Spirit Fabs and Robinson Metal. As the program grows, businesses outside the De Pere community may be considered.

“There are many people that feel all students should attend a four-year college, but this will help us demonstrate that there are other possibilities to make a good wage while still incorporating an educational component,” concludes Gerke. “The Trades Career Academy will show students and families the different opportunities available  locally and De Pere businesses will be able to cherry-pick some really good workers.”

“The Trades Career Academy will show students and families the different opportunities available locally.”