A significant number of jobs in today’s labor market are in the career and technical fields, often referred to as the “trades.” These jobs are in fields like manufacturing, plumbing, electrical, construction, automotive and engineering. In many cases, the required skills for these fields are highly technical and demand advanced math, literacy, and problem-solving skills.  Many of these trades jobs are high paying and offer excellent working conditions.

Students entering these fields typically do not require a four-year college degree. Instead, they utilize technical training certificates, apprenticeships, or in-field training. Many employers report that they are not able to find qualified workers to fill these positions, resulting in a high-demand job market in these job fields.

Forest Lake Area High School offers an extensive list of courses from in-demand career and technical education fields. While many high schools were eliminating “shop” classes, Forest Lake Area High School retained and strengthened these opportunities for students. 

With the resurgence of manufacturing jobs, we are an academic leader in offering courses in the engineering and manufacturing field, including welding, machine tooling, manufacturing, engineering, auto mechanics, construction, and woodworking. A generous $79,500 grant from Polaris Industries allowed us to create the Polaris Engineering and Design Build Lab where students use advanced software to engineer products and CNC machining to build parts for their designs.

The award winning agriculture program offers courses in food science, natural resource management, animal science, and agriculture systems. The local FFA chapter is recognized as a state and national leader and provides leadership development opportunities for over 100 students every year. Students who participate in FFA and agriculture classes manage the school’s greenhouse and run the annual open house event. During this event, students present learning projects, show pet and farm animals to younger students, and manage the greenhouse plant sale to the public. Student leadership and communication skills displayed during this event will serve students for a lifetime.

These program areas are part of an overall career focus for students at Forest Lake Area High School. Throughout their high school years, our students choose from academic programs within six career focus areas including agriculture, health science, engineering and manufacturing, human services, business and management, and communications. Students begin by exploring classes that fit their interests and passions. Then, as those interests begin to develop into a career path, we help students plan the level of schooling or training they will need to succeed in their field of interest. 

In partnership with Lakes Center for Youth and Families, our high school was recently awarded a Department of Labor and Industry grant for $95,000 to create student internships with local business partners. Regal Machine and Team Vantage have set the standard for these partnerships. Each of these partners have provided generous scholarships for students to pursue technical degrees with paid internships.  

Real-life learning experiences create relevance and connections. Career and technical education courses naturally connect students to the real world. Students in the construction trades program first construct a model and then advance to building a real house or facility. Over the years, students have built the athletic stadium concession stand, the Fenway Fields concession stand, numerous storage facilities throughout the district, and five homes that have been purchased and moved to off site locations. As a result, many students are in the construction industry because of the skills they learned in these valuable classes. 

Recently, I was met by one of our graduates at a local automotive repair shop. He shared with me that he was able to develop automotive technician skills in his high school automotive class at Forest Lake Area High School and then advance his skills at a local community college. With pride, he said that he was being paid to do what he loved.

Developing tomorrow’s workforce is part of our mission. Students develop their dreams when they recognize their talents and passions. Acquiring the skills to thrive in college and the workforce creates a sense of hope and purpose for the future. The district takes great pride in the role we are able to play in developing the next generation of skilled workers, professionals and leaders.

For more information on Forest Lake Area High School’s career planning guide, visit flaschools.org/careerguide.

Steve Massey is the superintendent of Forest Lake Area Schools.

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