Introducing a New Generation to the Trades in the US

For this article I want to give the floor to my colleague Brett, who has been following new approaches to industrial education in the US and Krones involvement with training the younger generation:

As US high school students are increasingly considering trade school as an alternative to a four-year college, some businesses are providing students valuable hands-on skills in the workplace, making them immediately employable in their chosen field. Krones Inc. in Franklin, Wis. is one of them. By offering students hands-on apprenticeships and internships in a variety of fields, the company is ensuring students are getting valuable work experience while still in high school. One of the most successful programs born from this initiative is an apprenticeship program. It has students, mainly juniors and seniors, working 400 hours and meeting specific criteria set by the school and state to obtain an apprenticeship certificate.

“It’s basically a certificate of employability…it’s really about immersing the student in the reality of what the workforce is really like and about giving them soft skills like critical thinking, showing up to work on time, dealing with others, as well as some technical characteristics,” says Tom Schulz, vice president of manufacturing at Krones Inc.

Schulz says that Franklin High School was the first school approached for the program five years ago, and though education officials were skeptical at first, the program has become widely accepted and is providing a valuable alternative for students not suited for the traditional four-year college path.

A Proud Member of the Franklin Business Alliance

The success of the internship and apprenticeship programs has caught on and through the Franklin Business Alliance, a group formed by companies within the Franklin Industrial Park. Krones Inc. has joined dozens of businesses in the area by providing work-based experiences in a variety of career paths, including engineering, accounting, and manufacturing.

“It gives those students an opportunity to feel out different career pathways. They’ll often find what they thought it was isn’t what it is. We often get students that say, ‘This is nothing like I thought it would be,’” says Schulz in regards to the programs offered. “The schools are a lot more receptive to going away from ‘everybody has to go to a four-year university.’ It’s important we don’t have this one size fits all because one size doesn’t fit all.”

While Franklin High School isn’t the only school Krones Inc. is actively working with, Franklin maintains deep ties with the company operating just minutes away from campus. Not only does Krones Inc. machinist Austin Lewandowski spend time there during the school day to provide industry insight and valuable skills to students. Krones plays a critical role in Franklin High School’s Saber Manufacturing – an in-house, student-run small business – by serving as a customer.

“We’ll send them a print and they’ll make jaws for our machines. Nothing too critical that we don’t have to wait to send to our customers, but they’re making a product and we’re paying them to do it,” says Jesse Bartol of Krones Inc., who plays an integral role in this part of the partnership.

“It’s about giving kids exposure. We get something out of it, they get something out of it. It’s part of the community,” adds Schulz.

For their work in the community, Krones Inc. was awarded the Platinum Partner award from the South Suburban Chamber of Commerce earlier this year. This award is given to business community members who play a significant role in the community.

Helping At-Risk Students Achieve Success

While Saber Manufacturing, internships and apprenticeship programs provide valuable work experience to students at Franklin High School, Krones Inc’s involvement in the community doesn’t end at the high school. Krones is a proud partner of GPS Education Partners – a company that is an educational alternative that works with local businesses to provide students struggling with traditional high school and considering dropping out.

“They’re not dumb. High school just wasn’t for them,” Schulz was quick to say. “It’s kids that just aren’t cutting it in a high school environment and are going to drop out. And instead of dropping our here’s your solution…you work at a business.”

Through their partnership with GPS, Krones takes on struggling students and gives them the opportunity to work toward their diploma and gain valuable skills while earning a wage, as well. The program is similar to the internship program with Franklin High School but is structured slightly different so that students spend their junior year moving job to job until they find a position that’s a good fit. They then spend the summer working at a company and finish their senior year in the same position. However, Bartol explains that like any other job there is no guarantee that a student will work out and Krones is not afraid to part ways with an underachieving student. Fortunately, according to Schulz, that’s rarely the case.

“Those kids can get kicked out, but they don’t. After that junior year, after working that first summer, it’s a whole different animal.”

Like with all programs offered, the goal of providing these opportunities to high school students is to prepare them for the real world and perhaps gain a valuable employee. Schulz and Bartol stated they’ve had success in finding dedicated students that have gone on to join the Krones team. One such student ended high school with a 3.8 GPA and is now a full-time machinist.

Schulz has some words of advice to any business willing to make positive change in their community and help the students start out on the right foot: “Go out and engage the education community and create these partnerships. Be the lever. Be the driver. Be the solution to the problem.”