JOHNSON CREEK -- The technology education program at Watertown High School, led by Jesse Domer, has done a lot right in the last several years and with the help of community partners like Ron Roehl, president of CNC Solutions, they hope to help lead other area school districts down the same path.
Roehl invited area teachers and community partners to his technical training center in Johnson Creek to discuss the future of technology education programs and closing the skills gap on Thursday night.
Since Domer took over the tech ed program in Watertown, SkillsUSA started and teams from the district have competed at state and national events in SkillsUSA Supermileage and Electrathon. Perhaps one of the most important things Domer has been able to accomplish is forming an industry partnership team, which helps his department with skills and funds to help teach students in real world situations with current equipment.
Roehl works with students in SkillsUSA at Watertown High School every Wednesday night teaching them necessary skills, with the hope that one day they will be interested in working for him or another area manufacturer.
Now Roehl says he would like to shift gears to help another tech ed program get off the ground, Johnson Creek's. The Johnson Creek School District has a new school and an empty space to work with for a technology education program, and Roehl said he would like to help that district in addition to the Jefferson and Fort Atkinson school districts get their programs to the level of the one in Watertown.
"I am in Johnson Creek now, I'm a graduate of Johnson Creek High School, I want to see this program work. My goal is to pull away from Watertown, they have a very well established program and I'm still going to support them in other ways, but if Ray wants me there for three hours every Wednesday night I will be there."
In addition to Domer, tech ed teachers Ray Lauersdorf from Johnson Creek, Gerald Burr and EJ Pilarski from Jefferson and Abraham Graziano from Fort Atkinson High School were in attendance at the summit to hear ideas from industry partners and each other.
Lauersdorf said he is hoping to reach out to industry and build his SkillsUSA program.
The other issue that was addressed at the summit was the need for students to want to go into manufacturing jobs or technology education.
"Parents think their child has to do better than them and they send them off to four-year college, not realizing why they are sending them off to a four-year college," said Cyndy Sandberg of the Jefferson County Youth Apprenticeship program. "Somehow we have to start getting the parents to see, feel and touch what manufacturing really is in this day and age.
"When kids get done with college then they have all this big college debt. Many of you probably have apprenticeship programs and we really have to start telling kids and parents about the apprenticeship programs, what the value of the programs are and the kid can come out of it making $50 or $60 an hour and have $40,000 in a retirement plan and no debt," she said. "The counselors and most of us sitting around here know college and we know how to get into college, but when it comes to the trades it's another pathway, but that's where youth apprenticeship comes into play."
Domer said at Watertown High School they are working to change the terminology from college to postsecondary education, which could help students who don't feel like they want to go on to college still think about what they plan to do after high school.
"We are working to get those counselors connected with industry and I think those counselors are a gateway. We need to find more ways to approach to change the language we use from college to postsecondary education."
In Watertown, SkillsUSA is getting students involved in technology education at younger ages. There is a SkillsUSA team at Riverside Middle School along with First Lego League teams starting in fourth grade.
"They are writing function block code and they don't even realize it," said Roehl.
There are 19 elementary school students participating in the events in the district.
"We want to get the younger generation into this so by the time they are in high school they are excited and wanting to get into these classes," Roehl said. "Our goal this year is to start marketing to that generation of students to get them involved before they are already doing something else."
"All of that stuff is possible because of that partnership team, because of the relationships I have with industry members. I can pick up the phone and ask for help with these projects," Domer said.
"To build and strengthen the programs you need those industry partners. I personally feel obligated. This is the future of my workforce," Roehl said.