If you’re looking for examples of how high-quality careers can start in Iowa classrooms, look no further than Grinnell-Newburg Community School District. Their new pre-apprenticeship pathway course is helping students connect with local employers, apply lessons to hands-on experiences and discover potential careers in skilled trades.

This past school year marked the inaugural year for the pre-apprenticeship program, which featured three-week units in heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC), electrical and plumbing. Six students took part in the pilot pre-apprenticeship course, attending one period each day in the classroom on Monday through Thursday and meeting with local business partners on Friday. Students enrolled in the course were required to have a foundation of classroom learning and also industry certification.

“All students have completed the industrial tech pathway prior to enrolling in the pre-apprenticeship course, and we complete the OSHA 10 certification during the first three weeks of the course,” said Cass Stubbs, Grinnell-Newburg High School counselor. “This provides a level of protection for the students and helps to set them up for success.”

The pre-apprenticeship course allows students to explore three different areas of skilled trades in a noncommittal way while earning high school credit.

“Grinnell-Newburg's pre-apprenticeship program helps address the gap between their students completing their industrial tech courses and making decisions on their next steps,” said Kristy Volesky, work-based learning consultant at the Iowa Department of Education. “It’s a wonderful way for students to truly try out different careers and businesses while removing the weight of making a career commitment before fully understanding the career or employer.”

Each week, students take part in group lessons which can focus on math, measurements, blueprint reading and more, depending on the particular skilled trade unit. Additionally, self-paced modules are done virtually on Oculus VR headsets. Supplied by ABC of Iowa, a non-profit construction trade association, the VR headsets allow students to access the SkillMill app which provides simulations in various skilled trades duties.

“It would be difficult to find someone highly skilled to teach all three areas of the pre-apprenticeship,” Stubbs said. “The SkillMill app allows us to provide simulations of real-world scenarios in HVAC, electrical and plumbing. SkillMill also allows me to not only ensure that students are completing the modules, but to see what areas we can work on more together.”

Examples of SkillMill modules completed by Grinnell-Newburg students during the past year included Alternating Current (AC) Motor Lab, Building a DC Circuit, Electrical Panels: Component and Safety and more.

Along with the use of VR headsets, the highlight of the program is the Friday interactions with local business partners in the field. Each Friday, the businesses can provide a hands-on activity onsite and have realistic conversations with students about this specific career path. Stubbs recognizes the importance of providing access to business partners and building strong relationships to ensure high-quality learning opportunities are being provided.

“We are incredibly blessed to have good business partners,” he said. “They have provided good ideas and strategies on what can work for the course – and what they’re looking for in future employees.”

This year, Grinnell-Newburg partnered with Jensen’s Heating and Air Conditioning, German Plumbing, Heating and Cooling and Black Electric, and they all found the experience to be as equally beneficial as the students.

“It makes total sense for every employer to be involved in a program like this,” said Scott Black, owner of Black Electric. “This is the future of the business. The construction industry needs workers, and we need to get kids interested in this field early.”

Students who complete the pre-apprenticeship course can apply for apprenticeship programs with one of the three business partners. Part of the course helps students practice interview techniques that they can use during their application process. This year, five of the six participating students plan to apply for apprenticeships, and Black is looking forward to these next steps.

“It’s definitely a goal to have students go on to apprenticeships with us,” Black said. “It’s all about matching kids and skills to see what is the best fit for them as well as us.”

Stubbs marks this first year as a success and looks to grow the program even more in future years. It is anticipated that the number of participating students will potentially triple next year, and new program areas such as general contracting, advanced manufacturing and information technology may be added soon.

“We’re seeing this program grow, and it’s great,” he said. “By partnering with local businesses, we’re going to help students find and pursue what they’re interested in. We're going to make a strong Grinnell-Newburg community.”

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