DULUTH, MN (Northland’s NewsCenter) Although a group of four students from the Duluth Public School’s automotive program recently earned top honors and thousands of dollars in scholarships at a Skills competition, what they’re really finding out is that what the learn in the classroom may translate into far more than medals.
The specialized auto program is helping students build solid foundations in high school for well-paying jobs when they graduate.
It’s an innovative industry
"We have cars now that have more computers than took us to the moon in 1969," said Phill Rannala, the automotive tech for ISD 709.
"The computer controls everything pretty much," said senior Kyle Carlson.
It’s just one piece of the puzzle students need know to be competitive in the competition.
"We have engine performance and then brakes and suspension and braking and electrical," said Justin Tidodeau, a junior.
The students placed well in competition.
"I placed second place in the main event," said Travis McClarey, a senior.
"Then, I got first in safety," said Carlson.
"We think we came home, between the two students that got scholarships, with about $32,000 worth of scholarships," said Rannala.
While scholarships are a bonus, Rannala says he’s focused on preparing students for the workforce.
"We’re one of eight districts in the state that provide national certified training," said Jim Arndt, the Principal on Special Assignment.
It’s a program requiring a lot of investment, but Rannala says there’s a good reason to keep it.
"The money is very, very good in many of the technical fields," said Rannala.
He says the jobs are there, and the auto program curriculum requires him to teach the latest skills to help fill the gap.
"It’s actually written and donated to us by the manufacturers of General Motors, Chrysler Corporation, Honda, and Toyota are the biggest creators of this," said Rannala.
The program also gives students credit toward college.
"Up to about 20 credits at Lake Superior College," said Rannala.
"We use federal grants to help support it and we use business partnerships to maintain the program, advice to staff, what we’re doing and how we’re doing it," said Arndt.
"Many of these expensive tools have been donated to my program," said Rannala.
Business partners also help provide part-time or summer employment for students.
"They go to work under a mentor in a shop setting in a local business," said Rannala.
"I work at Denny’s and do a lot of stuff with small engines, "said McClarey.
"The technicians at work have actually helped me a lot too with projects I got going on at home," said Tidodeau.
"Eventually, many of them employ my students," said Rannala.
"There’s many kids that have left here now that are making $20 an hour, plus, in the last decade," said Rannala.
Rannala says his program, paired with a two-year degree can equate to even better paying jobs.
"I’m actually going to go to Hibbing community college for diesel mechanics, working on bigger stuff," said McClarey
"The Northshore Mining, there’s three students who are working with the maintenance department doing extremely well, salary-wise and also career-wise," said Arndt.
"I think that’s the route I’m going into a two-year college," said Tidodeau.
Even with tech careers on the rise, many high school councilors still push students toward four-year degrees.
"That mind-set is still present. It was present when I graduated in 1968. It’s still present today, but it is changing…a lot of people still think the pathway to success is a four-year degree, and that’s not necessarily true," said Arndt.
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