Backed by $432,000 in new state funding, the Kent Career Tech Center aims to expose more students to career opportunities in the skilled trades.
The Tech Center, a part of the Kent Intermediate School District, will use a $300,000 competitive grant to create a virtual welding lab for students studying diesel and automotive technology, auto collision, precision machining, mechatronics and HVAC programs.
For Principal John Kraus, the investments in new programs and equipment will help interested students find new career opportunities.
“We have found it is sometimes challenging to change the current mindset of students and parents of manufacturing,” Kraus told MiBiz. “There is a perception of what it used to be: blue collar, dirty and dark. … We have engaged with manufacturers who have intense needs. We have come to realize it is not that (image), and we are trying to get students for those jobs.”
The latest $5 million round of competitive Career and Technical Education Innovation and Equipment Grants from the Michigan Department of Education announced last month helps school districts across the state obtain equipment to expand manufacturing programs. It targets programs training students in high-demand skills like mechatronics, machining and welding.
Additionally, the Tech Center received $132,000 in a state Career Education Planning District distribution that it will use for equipment to support its mechatronics/robotics, engineering and architectural design programs.
Kraus said the training at the Tech Center will be team-oriented and involve creative thinking. Looking ahead, the program must adjust to the current generation’s adoption of technology so it can engage even more students, he said.
“Our biggest thing is changing perception,” Kraus said. “I definitely think the current generation grows up with technology as ‘digital natives.’ (They are) not afraid to hit buttons and try this and try that. It’s a way to appeal to students.”
In improving outreach about manufacturing, Kraus uses his own example. Growing up with a father who was an educator, he lacked exposure to the world of manufacturing, but he said his participation in the Teachers in Industry program changed his mindset.
“I immersed myself into the machines, mechatronics,” Kraus said. “Everything you see has to be produced. … What drives our economy? Manufacturing. Let’s not forget what our bread and butter is.
“We need to educate kids about what the opportunities are here.”