Training For Manufacturing Jobs Starts in Nebraska Middle Schools

Eric Bartos welds a pump at the Flowserve factory in Hastings (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)
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December 29, 2015 - 6:45am

Nebraska manufacturers’ search for future employees is now stretching into the state’s middle schools.


It’s the end of Mr. Trindle’s eighth grade woodworking class at Hastings Middle School. Jacob Schroeder is among a dozen kids talking about what they want to do when they grow up. “I want to build stuff,” he says, simply.

Some people in Hastings say there aren’t enough kids interested in building stuff. There are 191 students enrolled in skills and technical science classes at Hastings Middle School. But there are only 59 in the courses that cap off those areas of study in high school.

Students in Mr. Trindle's eighth grade woods class at Hastings Middle School. (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)

Some go on to get two-year technical degrees at “Tech” – the local campus of Central Community College. But not enough, says Bob Wilson, who manages Hastings Flowserve pump factory.

Inside the factory’s long, red brick, 1920s building, sand is blown into a box where it’s mixed with gas to form molds. Wilson describes how they bring scrap metal in the back door, and send pumps out the front.

“We cast the parts that we need, we machine the parts that we need. Then we do the assembly and test, and then ship the product,” Wilson explained.

Over the last few years, Wilson and other business leaders in town helped create Hastings Public Schools’ “career pathways” program. That’s brought new shop equipment, some funded by private donations, to the high school and community college.

Flowserve Manager Bob Wilson with a pump ready to ship. (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)

Next year, it will expand technical instruction in the middle school, using a $125,000 grant from Gov. Pete Ricketts’ Developing Youth Talent Initiative. Wilson says there is a good business reason for all this. 

“What this effort is about is about finding skilled and qualified people to work on this shop floor. We’re focused on the shop floor right now. It just seems like that we end up training most of the people we hire,” Wilson said.

That costs Flowserve time – up to two years to train a welder – and money. Wilson says he would rather hire people who have already received training at the community college. And that requires expanding the pool of students who get interested in manufacturing careers in middle school.

Mike Trindle, the metals and wood teacher at the middle school, says students will benefit, too.

“If we’re going to get this to the kids now, earlier,  and (tell them) what’s out there, and where the wages are now, especially in like say that welding area -- man, it’s unbelievable. They’re going to make more than what I’m doing in the classroom,” Trindle said.

Hastings Schools Superintendent Craig Kautz says they’re moving in the right direction.

“The demand in manufacturing, the demand in other kinds of hands-on jobs is going to be huge,” Kautz said.

Luis Rodriguez shovels sand at the Flowserve factory in Hastings. (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)

Right now, about 35 percent of Hastings graduates go on to four-year colleges, 30 percent go to two-year schools, and the rest go directly to work or the military. Kautz says he wants all of his students to get more education after high school.

“But if I send all of them to a four-year institution, I think I’m really overproducing kids with bachelor’s degrees and probably underproducing kids that really need a technical skill and after two years in an associates program might be able to go out and actually earn a very, very good living,” Kautz said.

Just how good? Last year, Central Community College in Hastings had 19 graduates in plastic molding and tool and die making. Instructor Bruce Bartos says they averaged more than 10 job offers each for entry-level jobs.

“And if you were looking at a starting wage the lowest end was $55,000, the highest was $64,000, for a two-year college,” Bartos said.

Next year, in addition to welding, Hastings Middle School will add instruction in drafting, manufacturing and transportation. Since the idea is to broaden the pool of trained people businesses like Flowserve can hire, Bob  Wilson was asked why taxpayers should subsidize his training expenses.

“I don’t know that it‘s subsidizing anything. It is putting a new look on education in my mind,” Wilson said.

And Wilson says that “new look” is a winning strategy for students and manufacturers.

“I see it as options. Its options for kids. It’s a better way to educate kids. And does it benefit me as a business manager? Yeah it does. Which is a great win-win situation,” Wilson said.

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