Expanding opportunities: A.L. district receives grant to upgrade welding equipment

Published 8:29 am Wednesday, April 17, 2024

By Ayanna Eckblad

The Albert Lea school district this week became the recipient of a $77,600 grant that will go toward their Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry’s Youth Skills Training program. Jeff Halverson, executive director of careers, technology and innovation for Albert Lea Area Schools, applied for the grant and is excited about what this new funding will mean for the YST program. This program comes as part of an initiative aimed at broadening the career and education prospects for Minnesota students 16 and older. The funding is scheduled to be used over a two-year period.

“We are very excited about what this means for our students and the career and technical education opportunities that will follow,” Halverson said. “While this grant application focused on the manufacturing arm of the Youth Skills Training program, we are eager to expand our local program into other career areas. As such, we look forward to engaging with our local partners and employers within those industries.”

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About $33,000 of the grant money will go toward purchasing more advanced welding machines than the high school presently has available. The vocation saw a jump in popularity recently with 127 students enrolled in welding courses this year. The number of students was at 77 five years ago. According to Halverson, this comes at an opportune time as demand for skilled welders in the southeast Minnesota region is on the rise. He added that the importance of having up-to-date and relevant equipment available to students is critical in training them for a future career in the field.

“These new machines will offer students more relevant experience for the workforce or prepare them for a different kind of training they can enter after high school,” Halverson said. “This grant will allow us to … significantly upgrade our welding machines within our welding lab.”

Currently, students looking to learn advanced welding techniques must go to the welding facilities at the Riverland Community College campus in Albert Lea with an instructor trained to give college level welding courses to high school students.

The grant will also support students in obtaining their Occupational Safety and Health Administration 10 safety certification.

Another portion of the grant money will be used to appoint a high school teacher who is licensed as a work-based learning instructor on a part-time basis.

Halverson said the teacher will serve as an ambassador for the program and be a bridge between the high school and area employers.

In addition to new welding equipment, expanding faculty and increased safety training, the money will also help cover the cost of field trips and excursions for students grades 6-12. The goal of this is to introduce students to the potential career opportunities in technical sectors at a young age so they are more informed when they get closer to choosing a career path.

Albert Lea Area Schools is grateful for the support of the grant and the program and is looking forward to expanding their commitment of having more educational opportunities to properly prepare their students for the next phases of their lives.

Statewide,the grants will be awarded to 17 partnerships, which will receive and split $1.5 million in funding to be used for programs operating from July 1 to June 30, 2026.