RUMFORD — The national news is full of stories of students who graduate with high debt and face a bleak job market. Not so for students with skills in precision machining. Currently, nearly 1000 jobs in Maine are unfilled due to lack of skilled workers.
Region 9 School of Applied Technology hopes to fill the gap of unskilled workers with students from its metal trades program. The program includes welding, machine tool technology and sheet metal. Students from Dirigo, Mountain Valley and Telstar High Schools may apply for the program in their junior year and complete the second year during their senior year.
According to metal trades instructor Pete Barlow, “We have had seniors from this program get full scholarships from Maine Machine Products Company in South Paris and/or Dearborn Manufacturing in Fryeburg. Companies are looking for students to sponsor who have basic knowledge and show skill and good goal setting in this area. Attending Region 9’s program is an excellent first step toward a future in the metals industry.”
Current students are motivated by a wide variety of purposes.
For Dirigo senior Michael Chow, the reason was future focused. “I heard that there was a lot of demand for engineers and welders. I wanted to try it out and see if it’s for me.”
Classmate Alex Snowman agrees, “I chose to be in metal trades because I am going to college for engineering. I figured it is going to help me in engineering.”
MVHS junior Michael Theriault said simply, “I grew up around it.”
The thrill of machines appeals to some. Dirigo junior Jack Brown explained, “I chose it because I would like to run some machines I’ve never run before. Plus, I would also like to do something like this after I get out of school.”
Once the students are in the program, they learn more than just the metal trades. They learn skills to succeed in the world of work.
“He [Barlow] makes the class a lot like a work place,” said Telstar senior Daniel Welch.
MVHS senior Ryan Stickney said, “My favorite thing about this program is that it is a great real-world work environment, full of hands on assignments.”
In addition to work skills, the metal trades program also teaches academic skills like applied mathematics, metallurgy and writing. The students write a daily work log detailing what they did and what they learned.
By the end of the two-year program, students receive seven credits toward high school graduation. Students who excel are eligible for duel enrollment status, where they can earn up to six credits at several community colleges. They may also earn a machining certificate from the National Institute of Metal Working Skills and a welding certificate from the American Welding Society.
Most students would recommend the program to other students.
Telstar senior Brandon Behan has a few reservations. He said, “I would only recommed it if you are completely dedicated to working and will take it seriously.”
“I would say yes if you don’t mind working hard,” said Dirigo junior Nicholas Dyke.
Any student interested in learning more about the program may contact Region 9 for a day-long tour. In addition to high school students, Barlow also teaches adult education classes.