April 2, 2017
I love it when the proverbial light bulb clicks on for my students.
From time to time, we talk about “transferable skills” in the Auto Tech class that I teach at Lowell High School. I am never sure if they know the true meaning of that phrase.
But, during a recent tour of Aunt Millie’s commercial bakery organized through READY NWI and supported by the regional Works Council, several of my students began to realize that their interest and knowledge in repairing cars and trucks could be applied to repairing the machines that bake bread.
It dawns on them that their mechanical aptitude could lead them to working for other Northwest Indiana employers such as ArcelorMittal, BP, or even grocery giant Strack & Van Til. Instead of having to take a job in Chicago or elsewhere, my students begin to realize that their skills and talents could lead to a decent paying job in Lowell or somewhere nearby.
The company tours are valuable for the students, but perhaps, even more so for our local employers. They use the visits to eyeball potential workers. It’s quite common for the employer to contact me for more information about a particular student or two that paid attention and may have asked good questions during the visit.
I take great pride in our program that prepares young men and women for jobs that will require them to use their hands and minds. Most of my students enroll in the auto tech program because they want a career that won’t trap them at a desk behind a computer writing reports.
One such student is senior Noah Bettenhausen. Upon graduation, his dream is to become a heavy equipment operator, and I have no doubt that his wish will be fulfilled. Noah has been in my classrooms for three years. He knows the basics of repairing vehicles, and a willingness to work hard at everything asked of him. He also works part time for Hardings Heavy Equipment, a local employer that has given him additional exposure to the industry.
Some of my sophomores discover that repairing autos is not their cup of tea. In my book, that’s a positive outcome. The notion of exploring careers allows you to find your likes and dislikes. I don’t want our students leaving Lowell without a plan and then drifting along for several years and stuck in a minimum wage job.
We are blessed to have a variety of career and technical education programs that allow our students to explore career options. Besides Auto Tech, Lowell offers students programs in healthcare, law enforcement, information technology, and landscaping. And for students considering military service, we also have a junior ROTC program.
Not all of our students want to attend college. We know that 40 percent of our students at Lowell want to graduate and then enter the workplace. It’s our job to begin that skill building process in high school for our future workforce; we know there are plenty of decent paying jobs in the area for people that have a strong work ethic and the skills sought by local firms.
I enjoy my work, as do my co-workers at Lowell High School. We take great pride in making our community a great place to live and work.
Leon Simon is an instructor at Lowell High School. The high school is a READY NWI school. The opinions are the writer's.
The READY NWI partnership supports the unique aspects of community, school, and student, and embraces a commitment to regional thinking and acting in order to ensure prosperity by meeting the skill and education needs of employers throughout Northwest Indiana.