High schoolers explore heavy equipment operation
Central Lakes College, Local 49 partner to give students hands-on experience.
STAPLES — High school students from across the state tested their skill behind the controls of an excavator and loader at Central Lakes College in Staples Saturday, April 15.
The college hosted the hands-on event in partnership with the Operating Engineers Pathway, an industry-driven career exploration program that’s free to public school students in grades nine through 12.
Run by Minnesota Virtual Academy and the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 49, the Pathway gives students an up-close look at the field of heavy equipment operation and repair, while offering a chance to earn high school, college and apprenticeship credit simultaneously.
Currently in its third year, the Pathway has seen better-than-expected growth, with more than 170 Minnesota students enrolled this spring. The program is the first of its kind in Minnesota, and its success comes as companies report a shortage of skilled labor and as jobs in the trades gain attention for being meaningful careers at good wages.
“There’s an incredible appetite for students and their parents to feel like they’re having a meaningful career pathway and opportunity with industry and education,” said Jenny Winkelaar, director of workforce and community development for Local 49, in a news release.
Pathway students can take four, one-semester classes online that cover topics from equipment fundamentals to grade and construction math. The online classes allow students to remain enrolled in their local high schools. In-person events provide hands-on experience and industry networking opportunities.
“The most unique thing about it is that no school in the state was able to really do a deep dive on heavy equipment, because no school could afford to buy heavy equipment,” Pathway instructor Catherine DesChamps said.
The program’s regular hands-on experiences are hosted by partners like Central Lakes College, which offers a heavy equipment operations and maintenance program whose graduates often enter Local 49’s apprenticeship program.
“Nothing beats hands-on learning, and we were excited to give students that experience,” said Andrew Anderson, an instructor at Central Lakes. “High school is an important time for students to explore career paths. We’re proud to partner with the Operating Engineers Pathway to help students see what a rewarding career this can be.”
The Operating Engineers Pathway is now enrolling for the fall semester. Students and parents can learn more at local49.org/pathway or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
The program is the first of its kind in Minnesota, and its success comes as companies report a shortage of skilled labor and as jobs in the trades gain attention for being meaningful careers at good wages.
For more information
Central Lakes College Central Lakes College – Brainerd and Staples is a comprehensive community and technical college serving about 5,500 students per year. Its many program offerings include a diploma in heavy equipment operation and maintenance. Learn more at clcmn.edu .
The International Union of Operating Engineers Local 49 has been building the future since 1927. Today it represents more than 14,000 heavy equipment operators, mechanics and stationary engineers across Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota, making it one of the largest trade unions in the region. Its highly skilled members work in a wide range of industries, from road construction to mining to renewable energy and more. Learn more at local49.org .
Minnesota Virtual Academy is a tuition-free online public school program of Houston Public Schools that serves students in grades K through 12. A Minnesota Department of Education-approved provider of online education, MNVA gives parents and families the choice to access the curriculum and tools provided by K12, a Stride company (NYSE: LRN). Stride offers learners of all ages a more effective way to learn and build their skills for the future. For more information about MNVA, visit mnva.k12.com .
Operating Engineers Pathway introduces high school students to careers in heavy equipment operation through a unique partnership between Minnesota Virtual Academy and IUOE Local 49. Students can earn four semesters of high school credit while receiving the training necessary to enter the Local 49 apprenticeship program. Learn more at local49.org/pathway .