Nebraska's first high school apprenticeship program could lead to good jobs

Grand Island's Career Pathways Institute has a new apprenticeship agreement with Dramco Tool (NTV News)

Rising to meet the challenge, Grand Island takes on its workforce problem that employers say holds them back from expanding.

At Dramco Tool, company owners say high tech, high wage jobs go unfilled, which limits their growth.

Dramco owner Justin Pfenning said, “It’s very difficult to hire tool and die makers, skilled labor, skilled machinists, it's what stunts our growth more than anything. Our customers want us to do more, but we need more workforce to be able to satisfy them.”

Now the company is the first in the state to create a Registered Apprenticeship Program, allowing 16 and 17 years old to work in the plant.

It’s Dan Phillips of Grand Island Public Schools has been working on.

He said, “All businesses had the mentality they couldn't employ students until they were 18, this proves that it is possible, this is an avenue where we can handle the educational side and the businesses can do on the job training.”

It builds on the success of the Career Pathways Institute (CPI), which is Grand Island's tech program for high school kids, that exposes students like Pernaath Rial to careers like manufacturing.

“I could see myself doing this,” he said, as he toured Dramco.

And a paid apprenticeship could give him a huge boost.

“That would be pretty good for me, because right now I wouldn't be able to pay for a four-year college and I don't really need to go to a four-year college for the things I'm going to do when I'm older,” he said.

Justin Pfenning said Dramco has grown from two to 48 employees, and the Career Pathways Institute gave ten their start.

He said, “Our goal is to grow 2 or 3 employees per year and that's a feasible goal with our partnership with CPI.”

Manufacturing is the state’s second largest industry, said Lt. Governor Mike Foley as he celebrated the new apprenticeship program.

Superintendent Dr. Tawana Gover said, “It is great to have success stories we can go out and share with other people.”

This is the first of its kind in Nebraska, with Grand Island school leaders saying more will follow.

Dan Phillips said, “It’s groundbreaking in opening opportunities for students.”

He said students at CPI are junior and seniors, and as long as they are 16, they would be allowed to apply for the apprenticeship program.

Phillips said Dramco intends to bring a couple of students on for a paid internship in the summer, and those students would then work part-time during the school year, with the possibility of staying on as full time employees after graduation.

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