For most kids, the traditional course offerings of a public high school are enough to stimulate thoughts about their future career paths and options.

But for some high school students, the traditional offerings may not seem to relate to the real-life needs of a career. And they may not be interested in more school after high school.

Al Shannon, CEO of Shannon’s Inc., International Falls, encourages local kids to consider an apprenticeship readiness program offered in a partnership with the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 49 and Minnesota Virtual Academy.

The program offers Minnesota students a way into the International Union of Operating Engineers Registered Apprenticeship Program.

Shannon said the readiness program offers young people a “leg up” on the way to a career.

The program allows high school students to complete online elective courses designed to introduce students into the heavy equipment industry while earning credit for high school and college credit.

“This program is motivation to some students, some who are on the fringe, but like to run equipment and like to do other things that might be in the construction trades,” Shannon said.

Shannon knows about apprenticeship programs, as he serves on three boards involved in selecting course work for the programs and selecting those who will be accepted into the coveted career paths.

This is the first “readiness” program he’s seen among the three apprenticeship programs he’s involved with, he said.

“This is the first one that allows students to take some of the module online,” he said referring to the four different modules students can take. “It’s an introduction to the construction trades, to see if they like it.”

Shannon’s shop uses a lot of tradesmen, in sheet metal and plumbing. Shannon’s Inc. provides mechanical contracting services including sheet metal, plumbing and HVAC in commercial and residential projects.

“These folks excelled at trades, and didn’t do well in college preparatory classes,” he said. “These are kids that may not look like and don’t think their doing well in math, but give them a smartphone and they operate it like crazy.”

Finding the right path for some young people is more about interest and motivation than it is about ability, he said.

Many young people from northern Minnesota make good tradespeople because many have grown up developing mechanical abilities to keep snowmobiles, four-wheelers and tractors working.

“This allows them to see what might go on in the construction industry,” Shannon said. “It teaches math, using lasers, transits, all these things that grade leveling equipment needs.”

High school students can enroll in the online courses from any school district in the state of Minnesota. They can be taken anywhere at any time at no cost to the student. The program includes four semester courses that give an overview of skills needed to successfully prepare students for entrance into the IUOE Local 49 Registered Apprenticeship Program. These courses include construction exploration, basic grade and construction math, construction equipment fundamentals, and basic maintenance of mobile equipment. Students are eligible to receive college credit through North Hennepin Community College that will transfer anywhere throughout the state system.

What’s needed

Shannon said the program is designed by operating engineers, who know what knowledge and skill is needed to be successful in the trade, and may lead to college, going into the trades and signing a contract with the Operating Engineers for the apprentice program.

Shannon also said this is the first trade he knows of that has created a virtual program that can be taken by high school or college age people.

“I am hoping the other trades get on board,” he said mentioning electricians, plumbers, sheet metal and mill rights.

Employers are working to expand diversity of the people in the trades, Shannon said.

“We do have some A-No. 1 trades in the northern area,” he said.

Part of the draw for some young people, he said, is the lack of college debt at the completion of an apprenticeship program. In fact, he said apprentices make money while they learn.

“Compare that student out of college or university with $100,000 debt and you end make about same amount of money as someone in the trades,” he said.

Meanwhile, Shannon said the trade industries are changing dramatically, and he points to his own shop, as example.

“You go into a plumbing shop like ours and your computer doesn’t work and you might as well go home,” he said. “When you are out in the field, it’s Ipads and smartphones.”

Serving on apprenticeship program boards allow him input into what will be taught in the program for the evolving trades.

“The world has changed dramatically and we need to change the training to keep the trades up with the new world,” he said.