September 21 was a sunny day with a slight breeze — the perfect day for the CTE (Career and Technical Education) Exploration Day held by Bluff Country Collaborative. For this, the third year of the CTE Exploration Day, displays from area companies were set up both inside and outside the Caledonia High School.
Bluff Country Collaborative was formed in 2017 with partnerships between Houston and Fillmore County EDAs, Southeast Service Cooperative, Workforce Development, Southeast Perkins Consortium, and local school administrators. The economic and education world work together to help students find pathways to careers in the area.
Between 550 and 600 students from Rushford-Peterson, Houston, Caledonia, Spring Grove, and Mabel-Canton attended the CTE Exploration Day. Lewiston-Altura and LaCrescent-Hokah districts were unable to make it.
A total of 32 local companies brought interactive demonstrations, simulators, and other activities to engage students. This was an increase from the 24 companies in previous years. Post secondary schools and a wider range of businesses provided even more career choices to the students. Both Mayo and Gundersen had two booths to present the multitude of jobs available in the healthcare field. Families First of MN represented early childcare education.
Companies set up their display areas either in the parking lot or inside the school depending on their needs.
Outside in the school’s parking lot, students were able to check out the MnDOT snow plows, work on a mock electric line at the MiEnergy display, watch the use of a CPR machine at the Gundersen Tri-State
Ambulance, run the $400,000 robotic mason bricklaying machine and the mule (masonry unit lift equipment) to easily move heavy concrete blocks at the St. Cloud State display, and check out the Caledonia Hauler’s truck.
Wieser Brothers Construction drew a lot of attention when they offered a Hammerschlagen game. After putting on a hard hat, students could take turns hammering a nail one-handed into a slice of a tree trunk. Lucky winners were awarded their choice of prizes including the popular Wieser caps.
Caledonia-based Staggemeyer Stave Company displayed wood pellets for grilling; these were recycled from the white oak leftover from building barrels. The company representative was quick to mention that they hire 16-year-olds for summer positions.
At each booth, students were encouraged to ask the company representatives questions about their company. Some booths quizzed students as well. Midwest Manufacturing asked how many logos John Deere has had (8) as well as when the iron plow was first made (1837). Correct answers earned prizes. As students visited each booth they also got a stamp on a sheet which could be turned in at the check-in tent for a chance at door prizes.
Inside the school, a wide assortment of businesses had set up displays, including the U.S. Navy, McDonald’s, Flex Craft, Fastenal, Mathy Construction and more.
The Operating Engineers Local 49, a partner with MNVA, had a $100,000 excavator simulator for students to try out. Students are able to take up to four classes which give high school credit, apprenticeship experience credits, and are articulated, providing college credits. Three hands-on field trips are included in the classes.
Fastenal presented their tuition sponsorship program for makers. Students attend school and earn a two-year degree in CNC (Computer Numerical Control); during that time they also can gain valuable hands-on experience at Fastenal by working part-time. If the students maintain a 3.0, they will receive full reimbursement for both the books and tuition as they work full time at Fastenal.
McDonald’s Courtesy Corporation also explained their “Archways to Opportunity” benefit. Up to $22,000 in tuition can be gotten as the employees work a flexible schedule to work with their classes.
Gundersen Health had a display of ventilators — both manual and vacuum — to show the difference between the two and how they worked. Visitors were encouraged to try to use each one with the mockup of a lung.
Flex Craft, a manufacturing company located in Houston, brought shelving made by the company. Powder coated, square aluminum tubing has holes cut into it so adjustable shelving can be customized using brackets, shelves and drawer systems. The majority of their products are purchased by other manufacturers.
Flex Craft is concerned about employee welfare. They make a point of having everyone work on the manufacturing floor for at least two weeks so they understand the jobs. Employees work rotating shifts, changing what they do every one or two hours. They also have designed specific safety glasses with improved comfort and coverage.
Inside and outside, the participating companies did their best to engage the students. Games such as Plinko, and Spin the Wheel as well as the Hammerschlagen game drew players. Swag, giveaway products
emblazoned with company names, included pens, post its, chip clips, golf towels, stress balls, beach balls, caps, key chains, lanyards, lip balm, bananas, candy, and more. CTE students left with a bunch of swag, but more importantly a bunch of information about area companies to help them as they start to decide on their future careers.
MaryAnne Smith, Youth Workforce Navigator for Bluff Country Consortium for the last four years, enthused that the CTE Exploration Day was “beyond what we envisioned!” Plans are already in the works for another day next year; save the dates were set for Thursday, September 19, 2024.
Smith explained how the event ties in with other offerings from Bluff Country Consortium. With the intent to expose students to what the local companies offer, the Exploration Day is a good way to start the students thinking about what type of job they want to learn more about, and where they might want to do a job shadow or work experience.
During the coming school year, students will work in small groups and classes to research and focus on jobs in which they are interested and practice professional communication, writing resumes and preparing for interviews.
In March, students will have the opportunity to attend career and job fairs. At these fairs they can discuss more details with potential employers and possibly even interview for a job.
“Schools and educators are doing amazing things!” MaryAnne stressed. “My role is to handle details for the schools and to support the professionals by coordinating events.”
Smith expressed her “immense gratitude for the generosity of the business community in participating in such events.” She continued, “Without them we can’t have such events!”
Allison Wagner declared, “This is all about creating workforce pipelines with a goal of keeping people here.”