Senator Klobuchar finds collaboration in Albert Lea
Published 10:41 am Friday, April 18, 2014
U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar applauded Albert Lea’s Youth Apprenticeship Program on Thursday, calling it a great example of collaboration and an answer to dealing with a shortage of skilled workers in today’s industries.
Klobuchar, a Democrat from Minneapolis, stopped in town to learn from three students, local officials and business leaders at Lou-Rich, where the project started.
“You could see the excitement of the high school kids involved in this program,” she said. “It’s a great example of what we need to be doing.”
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Local leaders began talking about the apprenticeship program in 2010 as a way to address a workforce shortage in the manufacturing sector.
The Minnesota program, through the Minnesota Department of Education and the Department of Employment and Economic Development, is modeled after a Wisconsin course that incorporates classroom training, mentoring and hands-on experience. The Albert Lea program is one of two in the state.
School officials look for students interested in industrial technology to be a part of the course.
The students go through safety
training and apply what they are learning in the classroom in the job field. Juniors complete 450 hours of paid work-based learning, and seniors complete 900 hours. They complete multiple semesters of related classroom instruction, in addition to their other academic classes.
Johanna Thomas, assistant principal at Albert Lea High School, said the program is a good opportunity for the participating students to explore careers.
After the completion of their schooling, many go off to attend two- or four-year colleges. After that, some may return to Albert Lea and get a job at the company they apprenticed in.
“This is a very good method for us to recruit, build some excitement from the high school level,” said Lou-Rich President and CEO Mike Larson.
It could potentially prompt more young people to stay in Albert Lea after graduation from high school, said Albert Lea Mayor Vern Rasmussen.
Albert Lea High School seniors Dalton Carlson and Ben Kelly started the program in October.
Carlson said he has gained work experience and the opportunity to learn what many of the machines at the plant do.
He said it has also helped him figure out what he wants to do with his life as an adult, which is to be an electrician or electrical engineer.
Likewise, Kelly said it has opened many doors for him. He now wants to be involved with CNC machines and plans to attend Riverland Community College to gain a two-year degree after high school.
The class was added to the high school curriculum this school year and placed six students with three businesses: Edwards Manufacturing, Lou-Rich and Ultimate Automotive. An additional business, Interstate Molding and Manufacturing, is also on board with participating.
Second semester enrollment has 10 students working on skill-building employability skills, career interest inventories and other assessments. They will have tours of participating businesses and work toward placement in the 2014-15 school year.
Thomas and Valerie Kvale with Workforce Development Inc. have presented about the program, including the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce conference last October.
Albert Lea-Freeborn County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Randy Kehr said he thinks the program is an example of Albert Lea offering a solution to its own problem.
Klobuchar said she thinks Albert Lea’s program is one that needs to be replicated across the country.