BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
DONNELLSON – A Lee County program that gives area students an inside look at manufacturing careers graduated 12 more students Tuesday morning.
The Lee County Economic Development Groups 12 Plus fall program graduated a dozen county students after they gave presentations to area manufacturers and economic development officials.
Central Lee teacher Chuck Banks has been the instructor for the program the past two years and said the curriculum continues to open the eyes of students to possible careers out of high school or even later in life.
“The value is that it allows students to see real world mathematics, real English, real communications in action and to see that its not just factory work anymore,” Banks said.
“It’s a technologically advanced society and these students have no idea it’s applied here. It allows them to not only learn real life skills, but also to advance to an understanding that there’s a lot of good paying jobs available.”
The students go through a curriculum that includes onsite visits and tours of county manufacturers, resume building skills, mock interviews, and a final project that takes on a challenge presented from partner companies.
One of this year’s projects was how to deal with waste at ConAgra, specifically looking for a more ecofriendly way to recycle the casings that meat comes packaged in.
The second project was how to attract possible employees to one of many open positions at Scotts Miracle Gro.
The third, which resulted in a process flow chart from a group of four students on how to pump “Milk of Lime” at Climax Molybdenum through pipes and a tank.
The students in that project spoke with vendors regarding possible pumps and valves that would be needed to create the fluid line. They also looked at safety mechanisms that would be needed on the line to protect workers.
The class consisted of 11 seniors and one junior, Keagan Sapp.
Sapp said he was encouraged by Banks to be a part of the program because Banks new his future plans.
“Mr. Banks said it would be a great opportunity for me to take it,” Sapp said.
“It felt like a way that you can be brought into adulthood. It teaches you a lot about what goes on in manufacturing.”
Sapp said his biggest take away from the class was that manufacturers were looking for younger people and really seemed to care about their generation.
“They really do want us to succeed,” he said.
A connection he made at Steffensmeier Welding & Manufacturing could lead to employment for him after he attends Southeastern Community College for two years to get a welding certification.
Emily Benjamin, a representative with Climax Molybdenum said it’s been exciting partnering with LCEDG and the students in the program.
“We’re very excited how this is growing. We thought the students did a great job, but I would stress to them that we as partners really want to help and be resources,” she said.
“The projects that we give, the students can take it as deep and detailed as they want.”
She said the group that came up with the process diagram had access to plant staff including an engineer to help them work through the math.
But the real value of the program is getting the students out into the real work environments and letting them see what opportunities are there, Benjamin said.
The Scotts group said it best when they said you just can’t understand it by looking at a power point,” she said.
“It’s going out and seeing and touring local industries and seeing how many different jobs there are. They also get to see that factory jobs aren’t what they think they are, and aren’t what they were 10 years ago. These are great paying jobs and we’re starting to see kids understand that.”
Banks said data on the success of the program is still being cultivated, but he believes that 50% or better that have gone through the program have come out with a contact at a local industry and that can have extended valiue.
“When I came back from military I went into manufacturing and I became a business manager relatively quick. When I look at these students, I see them advancing and thriving especially with the amount of baby boomers retiring and the number of jobs that are going to be available,” he said.
Dana Millard, the economic development project director for LCEDG, who coordinates the program said she’s been pleased with what the students are taking away from the program.
“I was very pleased with how much the students were able to gain real world knowledge and experience through the team projects,” Millard said.
“Its always good to have that experience of contacting vendors and suppliers and trying to get information you need to fulfill your project.”
The program can take up to 20 students, but their is a process to qualify and that begins with contacting respective school guidance counselors.
Millard said more than 30 businesses partner with LCEDG on the program and provide assistance from mock interviews, to helping with resumes, all the way to offering up projects for the teams.
The projects take about six weeks, which comes after an introduction period in which, Millard said, the students learn some of the soft skills of getting and holding a job.
“Theres always room for improvement, but I’ve been really happy with the connections the students get through the program and how much growth I see from day 1 to graduation,” Millard said.
“Several students have gotten job offers from going through this class.”
Students accepted into the program for the fall were: Stephanie Anderson, Evan Pohren, Lokota Daniels, Keagan Sapp, Brieanna Septer, Logan Kramer, Colby Burdette, Gus Overstreet, Ethan Deiphuis, Devin Tweedy, Zeke Haps, Diego Lozano, Dalton Woolever, and Roger Mauck.
In May of this year, LCEDG received the Best in State Award for Business Retention & Expansion Overall Program from Professional Developers of Iowa. The 12Plus Program is part of the Grow Lee initiative to create a pipeline of local talent to help fill some of the skills gap issues facing the county now and in the future with baby boomers entering retirement.