Blake Maegi caught on quickly to welding and found himself working for a manufacturer with a plant in Rogers

by Jim Boyle

Editor

Seventeen-year-old Blake Maegi plans to travel to Montana with friends this winter for some serious snowmobiling. At an elevation of 9,000 feet above sea level, the Zimmerman youth says there’s pretty much a guarantee of snow.

It’s a trip made possible by a job he has as a welder for Eastey Enterprises, one that gives the Zimmerman High School senior a solid career options right out of high school.

He got the job as a sophomore after taking to the art of melding metal and now continues to work at through an internship provided by the Elk River Area School District and his employer through a grant.

It was his first job at 16 in what may very well be his lifelong profession. He’s expanding his skill set through the support of the district, his supervisor at Eastey and a Youth Skills Training Grant. He now envisions a career where he could  easily pull down between $80,000-$160,000 annually — in one of the countless career fields experiencing a workforce shortage that is only expected to worsen.

Maegi is one of five students from Zimmerman High School doing an internship this semester.

Across the school district there are 58 students that are ready to be placed in internships, many of which are slated for the second semester due to limited schedules.  Elk River has 17 students active in the program now and Rogers has 12 student and the numbers will grow at all three schools.

“We are very excited about partnering with local businesses to provide students with hands-on experience and training in a variety of occupations with our CTE Internship Program,” said Amy Lord, District 728’s career and technical education coordinator. “The program started last year with just 6 students first semester and 38 second semester. Every junior that completed the internship program last year is in the program again this year.”

These internships have been made possible by a $100,000 Youth Skills Training grant through the Department of Labor and Industry.

They are designed to expose youth to in-demand career opportunities in manufacturing while building marketable skills and competencies on the workplace. These locally developed programs are implemented in cooperation with employers and schools. Youth Skills Training programs include both classroom instruction and paid part-time employment and are approved and monitored by DLI.

Funding supports 11th and 12th graders to earn an elective credit with a paid manufacturing internship and obtain their OSHA 10 Certification while learning, earning and working on the job.

There is  training available for businesses to train their supervisors and mentors to work with today’s youth. The grant also covers busing cost for manufacturing field trips for middle and high school students.

The program has support of local chambers of commerce and the Elk River Economic Development Authority who all wrote letters of support. The hope is to keep the program up and running long after the grant runs out, but that will take some effort.

There’s interest on the part of students. Over the last year District 728 had over 200 students apply for the CTE Internship Program. Many of those students were not ready for the program as they had not completed a related CTE course, changed career paths, did not have availability in their schedule or wanted a pathway (construction and culinary) that DLI Child Labor Laws usually require students to be 18 years old.

The district is also considering applying for another Youth Skills Training Grant to support partnerships in the transportation industry. Meanwhile, district officials are working hard to make the program for students interested in manufacturing careers sustainable. One project  is the creation of a manual with the processes and procedures for the program for future educators and interest manufacturers to follow. The workforce shortage in the manufacturing industry and various trades needed to support it is not going to go away on its own.

Maegi says the research he’s done gives him confidence he could easily pull in $80,000 annually someday. He even has thoughts of working on a pipeline someday and pulling down $160,000 in a year. He said his peers at Zimmerman High School ask him little about his job or his future plans, but he’s certain they would be wise to consider options besides going the route of a four-year degree.

“I think learning a trade is your best bet,” he said. “You don’t have to pile up four years of debt.”

And, if you’re lucky, Maegi says, “you’ll find something you’re passionate about. Then you’re really set.”

He landed a job at Eastey after a one of his shop teachers noticed how quickly he took to welding in a 10th grade shop class and asked him about a possible employment opportunity.

He started out at $15 an hour for the case sealing and shrink packaging equipment manufacturer in Rogers, running into work after school was over to put his newfound welding skills to the test.

He passed the test, as he is still working there. He now makes $15.45 an hour, leaves school an hour early each day and gets high school credit for the work through an internship lined up through the Elk River Area School District and his employer.

“It definitely pays for my fun,” Maegi said.

He works about 20 hours a week during the school year. He also has worked full time in the summer.

It’s a job he plans to keep after graduating from high school in the spring of 2020, and one that he foresees will open up lots of other options down the road with the skills he’s obtained at the local manufacturing business.

Maegi learned basic welding in his first welding class, and now that he’s landed an internship he’s been able to add more tools to his repertoire such as drills and grinders. Now he’s getting his OSHA certification.

“I have always known I am going to work with my hands,” he said. “I thought maybe I’d be a mechanic or something.”

It was his father that introduced him to fixing engines. The teen who has spent most of his life in Zimmerman except for a few years during his middle school years was eager to sign up for shop classes in high school. In addition to welding, he’s had woods and small engines at Zimmerman High School, both of which he has considered fun. Sparks must have flew, however, when he got into the welding class.

“I caught on really quickly,” he said.

His favorite parts of welding are the completed projects he’s able to touch and examine with pride. He also likes the challenges that come along the way.

Working at a manufacturing business has given him plenty to ponder. “They have some impressive machines,” he said.

Eastey Enterprises, is headquartered in Brooklyn Park and has a manufacturing plant in Rogers. They manufacture a complete line of case tapers, L-sealers, sleeve wrappers, shrink tunnels and bundling equipment for industries such as food and beverage, electronics, medical and pharmaceutical, and other manufactured goods. Eastey has been in business for over 25 years and has an installed base of over 14,000 systems.

Maegi will have the chance to move up or move on. Either way he can see his future like snowmobiler high atop a Montana mountain.

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