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Model of success

Collaboration continues to help area residents build up their skills in industrial maintenance and find jobs in their field

August 25, 2010
By Karin Elton

Matt Zylstra of Hendricks has a good excuse for not completing one of the industrial maintenance courses he signed up for - he got a job.

He is one of 41 area residents who have taken industrial maintenance classes offered by Southwest Adult Basic Education, Minnesota West Community and Technical College and the Southwest Private Industry Council in order to obtain employment or upgrade their current jobs.

The courses offered are welding fundamentals, electrical, steam boiler engineering and mechanical.

Out of the 41 students who have completed one or more courses in the industrial maintenance curriculum, 19 have gotten jobs. The staff hasn't gotten the data from the most recent session which ended July 29. That figure also doesn't include the students who have upgraded their positions, said Pat Thomas, the coordinator for ABE in Marshall.

"So the success rate is much higher," she said.

Zylstra, who was unemployed for "six or seven months," he said, already had three and a half years of welding experience, but he said he needed a refresher for employment.

"It was good practice," he said.

In addition to a high rate of employment after taking these classes, the staff have found that there is a high rate of successfully passing state exams.

Thomas and Julia Carlo, the special projects coordinator for Southwest Minnesota Private Industry Council, have found that, when combined with Workforce and Adult Basic Education support, students who take the state boiler exam have higher passing rates.

"Our passing percentage was significantly higher than the 80 percent which pass the traditional training which is an eight-hour college course then an exam," she said. "We provided additional study and help. This model is very successful."

In addition to the four classes, an additional class was added to the latest course, a soft skill class. "Soft" skills are customer service, interpersonal or communication, teamwork and leadership skills.

"While these courses aren't gender specific, more men than women tend to take these courses, so the soft skill course was delivered differently to men than women," said Carlo.

Previous soft skills classes have been offered to certified nursing assistant students which tend to attract women.

The new course was titled "Build Your Own Vehicle" and used a car as an analogy for building good interpersonal skills.

Thomas said one of the students who took the soft skill class said it was a "real eye opener" and he felt he had to clean up his act at his job.

The Southwest Private Industry Council just got a Minnesota State Energy Sector Partnership grant for more training if there are enough interested participants.

"We're expanding - it's not going to be just in Marshall," said Carlo. "We'll make use of MinnWest because of its multiple campuses. It depends on the number of interested parties and the number of jobs in that area. We hope to provide at least one course in Granite Falls, Jackson or Worthington."

Upcoming industrial maintenance courses will be changed to include classes specific to the energy industry, Carlo said.

"Some contents have been modified to meet the demands of energy companies," she said. "There have to be energy companies in the area that think there is a need for current and future energy employees."

The industrial maintenance courses are geared toward a need in the community.

"There is a job for them upon completing the classes," Thomas said. "This is an efficient use of taxpayers' money - investing in people."

While Zylstra wasn't able to complete the electrical class because he got a job at Hydroswing in Cottonwood, he was able to complete the welding portion.

Zylstra said the industrial maintenance course "will help somebody who wants to learn industrial skills. It's a good way to get started."

Zylstra is grateful for the extra help and wants to volunteer after work with upcoming classes as a way to give back.

"I talked to Mark Erickson (student liaison) and I'm going to help out the students in the September and October classes with production style welding," he said. "It benefited me, so I want to help out."

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