(Edgerton, WI) - Neil Johnson, Gazette
Edgerton High School’s Pipeline to Employment, the district’s new intern partnership with area manufacturers, might soon need a new name.
Instead of a pipeline, it’s becoming a multi-lane highway for students to learn trades and gain job skills.
Since it started last fall, the internship and training program has been turning heads locally as more industries in and around Edgerton jump on board. It’s also grabbed the attention of state officials.
Monday, Republican Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch visited the tech ed department at Edgerton High School. Kleefisch also accompanied Edgerton school officials and a handful of students during tours of Edgerton Gear and Componex, two Edgerton industries that participate in Pipeline to Employment.
About a half-dozen companies have hired as paid interns a few Edgerton High School students who the companies say fit the mold of employees they’d put on the fast track. The students are well rounded in math, science and English; they communicate well; and most of all, the companies say, they’re interested in careers in manufacturing.
The program is designed to funnel students toward manufacturing careers and, for some employers, to create an employment farm system that includes training for specific skills and reimbursement for college coursework and technical training.
Kleefisch’s visit allowed the school district to put a spotlight on a style of partnership that Edgerton Gear owner Dave Hataj said reminds him of how industry worked decades ago, when his father, the late Dick Hataj, founded his company.
Back then, Hataj said, industries were willing to give young, inexperienced workers a chance if they had ability and drive to learn.
This spring, Edgerton Gear hired on two Edgerton High School seniors to work as interns at the plant, which makes specialty gears. It is one of a half-dozen local companies now involved in Pipeline to Employment.
Others involved include Pakes’ Engine and Machine in Janesville, a budding internship program at Badger Veterinary in Janesville and a few local farms, Edgerton High School Principal Mark Coombs said.
Hataj has been thrilled to bring back his father’s tradition of hiring high school interns.
“It’s exciting,” Hataj said. “My dad, back in the 70s, he had a capstone program where he’d take in high school students and give them a chance. Part of our culture at Edgerton Gear is to get kids involved and bring them in. We’ve all had people that gave us a step up, a hand.”
Hataj said the company is looking to the program to narrow the so-called skills gap—the lack of enough skilled laborers—that employers say has made it tough to expand in a tepid economic recovery.
But he said local employers also are trying to shatter high school students’ perception that manufacturing is dirty, unskilled work.
“Our role is to elevate the status of manufacturing,” he said.
Monday, students in the internship program walked around Edgerton Gear, touring the clean, tidy workspaces where workers turned and fine-tuned gears that varied from tiny plastic sprockets for microscopes to giant cogs used in heavy mining equipment.
Edgerton High School senior Spencer Stone was hired by Edgerton Gear as a Pipeline to Employment intern.
On Monday, Stone said he always wanted to work with his hands, but he never realized how fascinated he’d be by manufacturing.
“It’s been a really great experience. We’ve learned everything from simple measurements to learning how to program machines,” Stone said.
He and Edgerton High School senior Dalton Walters, the company’s other intern, also are being taught to read design blueprints.
The pair plan to attend Madison Area Technical College next year. Both said they plan to study engineering and would like to pursue careers as precision machinists.
During the tour, Kleefisch asked Jeff Elner, a supervisor at Edgerton Gear, when the company would begin to see a financial return on its investment in the students.
Elner told her it’s a long-term process, and the priority is bringing students along gradually—not crash-course training.
“I can train you to run a machine in a week, but that’s not what we’re doing. We’re wanting to show how we do process A, B and C and why we do it that way,” Elner said.