Mac Photo provided.

Bunker Hill, IN. -  Maconaquah School Corporation partners with FCA Automotive and UAW Local 685 to focus on the future of the students and the skilled workforce in Midwest Indiana.

As skilled trades numbers continue to decline, a few hopeful advocates search for ways to close the gap. Paul Adkins, Brian Beachy, and Roger Sampson are Skilled Tradesmen employed by FCA Automotive. After making a connection with Maconaquah’s SRT program last year, they have found their way back into the school, this time making waves in PLTW class.

“I love working with students, I always have, so when I was approached about working on a project that would help introduce skilled trades to students, I said absolutely. I’ve recognized that this is something we need back in the school system, and I see such a benefit to it. So many students graduate with no idea what to do next. The idea of introducing trades at a younger age gives kids more of an opportunity to find their passion. Showing them something they've never done before can give them an opportunity to see something click, to trigger that passion,” said Brian Beachy. Beachy is a pipe fitter at FCA, and one of the gentlemen responsible for helping introduce the newest construction project to Maconaquah’s Project Lead the Way students at the Middle School.

The industry is struggling to recruit and retain skilled laborers, and the threat of a continued shortage grows as Boomers retire in droves. The importance of finding interested students to continue on to skilled trades positions after high school is imperative, and this is one way to grow interest.

“It is something that opens up possibilities,” said Paul Adkins, an electrician for FCA. “You never know what passion you're going to unlock. We've identified the shortage, now it's a matter of deciding what steps to take to deal with it. This is only the first step of many, but we aren’t afraid to go the distance.”

Adkins is responsible for spearheading the collaboration between FCA and Maconaquah. He and Middle School Vice Principal Justin Myers have worked closely with what direction this program can take to be most successful. The goal is to find students who gravitate toward these trades, and prime them to continue into the new trades programs recently established at Maconaquah High School.

"Our goal with the middle school program is to allow students to apply what they have learned in our PLTW Engineering curriculum and highlight the importance of traditional skills & abilities. Success in our partnership with the UAW can be measured by increased enrollments in our construction trades, welding, and engineering programs at Maconaquah High School. Our hope is these unique opportunities in the middle school will steer our students down a path leading to gainful employment in high wage, high demand careers in the Skilled Trades or other related areas." said Myers.

The trades class is being incorporated into the Project Lead the Way classes. PLTW provides STEM courses that utilize real-world challenges. Sue Ellen Sopher heads the program at Maconaquah Middle School and has become a big advocate in the reintroduction of the trades programs.

“I believe this partnership will allow our students to see how skilled trades may fit into their life in the future. I believe this could open the door for students to see different job opportunities and broaden their horizons. I hope that this will generate interest in the skilled trades area and bolster and/or add programs at the High School level.

One of the biggest faults in reintroducing Skilled Trades at the k-12 level is monetary struggles. In a generation where students are natives to technology, there is a drive to keep up with the many technological advances, especially in schooling. Technology has proven to be a significant innovation, but also an expensive one. Maconaquah has done a great job continuing their growth in the technological field while also finding new ways to dedicate funds to the reimplementation of the Skilled Trades programs. And although at times it has seemed all funds have been exhausted, new opportunities have arisen.

One such opportunity came about last month through a grant from the Indiana Next Generation Manufacturing Competitiveness Center, or IN-MaC. This grant is funded by Purdue University. Maconaquah Middle School applied for the grant in October and has been awarded $2,000 to go toward equipment to help expand their Project Lead the Way program. With these tools, the FCA volunteers will be teaching students how to make a footstool. Although seemingly simple, the process will require combination squares, tape measures, dividers, power hand drills, scroll saws, table saws, and miter saws.

The curriculum for the footstool came through the “Career Connections” curriculum which was developed by the Carpenters International Training Fund. Through this program, Maconaquah was able to connect with the UAW 685, exposing the school to yet another strong partnership. This project will expose students to hands-on skills in measurement, safety, hand tools, power tools, construction layout and drawing, and more. Rather than a step, it is more of a leap in a direction to spark curiosity and interest in Skilled Trades.

Without the partnership of FCA Automotive and UAW Local 685, Maconaquah might not have had the opportunity to pursue growth in skilled trades at a 6-8 level. But this is only the beginning. The hope is that others will catch on and help groom future talent to fill the gaps in a once booming industry.