- Associated Press - Sunday, October 11, 2015

HASTINGS, Neb. (AP) - Bob Wilson is jealous of the opportunities available to today’s high school students.

“When I went through school, you just took a whole bunch of classes and it was kind of up to you to figure out how you were going to use them to get a job or what you were going to do with them once you got out of high school,” he said.

Wilson, who graduated from Harvard High School in 1975, is among a group of local manufacturers who have partnered to make it possible for students at Hastings Public Schools get early exposure and experience with potential career opportunities.

Wilson has been instrumental in the implementation of the manufacturing career pathways program at Hastings High within the past few years.

As the director and general manager of operations for Flowserve in Hastings, Wilson said part of his involvement with the pathways program is for selfish purposes - he’s seeking future employees.

Part of it, though, is just giving students the opportunity to use high school as a springboard for college and a career by finding their interests early.

Flowserve recently was awarded a $125,000 Developing Youth Talent Initiative Grant from the state of Nebraska to develop career pathways programming at the middle school level.

While some people may think starting career pathways programming with sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders might be a little pre-emptive, Wilson said he knows after a few years of experience it’s important to work with kids at an earlier age to discover their interests.

The idea of the career pathways program in Hastings started back in 2012 with the Hastings Area Manufacturers Association and their continual need for qualified employees.

The idea at the time, when Wilson was president of HAMA, was to create a scholarship program at Central Community College-Hastings that would fund a student’s education. That student then would work for a Hastings manufacturer after graduation.

HAMA members couldn’t come to an agreement on the logistics of the proposal, so by the end of 2012 that idea had fizzled.

Early in 2013, the group sat down with Hastings Superintendent Craig Kautz, Adams Central Superintendent Shawn Scott, and CCC-Hastings Campus President Bill Hitesman to discuss the idea of a career pathways program between the entities.

“Craig and Shawn were very skeptical,” Wilson told the Hastings Tribune (https://bit.ly/1L0o4Kh ).

Eventually, the HAMA group at least convinced Kautz of the benefits of a career pathways program, and by the beginning of 2014 the manufacturers had sunk nearly $200,000 into the manufacturing shop at Hastings High.

While the new dual-credit program at Hastings High already is a success, Wilson said, the local manufacturers still are looking for more workers.

“We figured out we had to increase the number of kids from Hastings who are taking the classes at tech, and that led us to the middle school where we can get the parents of the middle-schoolers to think about an education for their kids,” he said.

This summer, interested parties worked on the application for the youth talent grant. Now, they are focusing on creation of a program at the middle school.

“We couldn’t pass that up because the middle school needed about that level of financing to buy that equipment and to develop the curriculum they needed,” Wilson said of the grant. “We’re working on that, but the hard part is out of the way. We’ve got the money.”

The sixth-grade curriculum will be a general introduction to various career pathways with greater detail in the seventh grade classes.

While plans are still tentative, Wilson said eighth-graders would get to explore a career path in more detail with one area explored each of the four quarters of the year.

He said the training students would receive through high school and college at CCC would give them an advantage by being able to walk into most manufacturing jobs in Hastings and requiring little or no training at all.

“A lot of the machine tools we have here are the same or very similar to the ones at the tech school and what they teach in welding at tech school is exactly what we do here,” Wilson said.

When Wilson graduated from high school in 1975, he pursued degrees in construction management and mechanical engineering from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln without any knowledge of what mechanical engineering was. It was just something his counselor had suggested.

And while he’s managed to have a successful career, Wilson said, he wishes he had the opportunities more students are having in school today and will have in the future.


Information from: Hastings Tribune, https://www.hastingstribune.com

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