The Michigan Department of Education gave out a $300,000 Career and Technical Education (CTE) Innovation and Equipment Grant to purchase virtual welding equipment. This equipment will allow all welding students to virtually experience welding scenarios.
This grant was one of 14 awards, totaling $5 million, that were given to local and intermediate school districts. This money is to be used to purchase specialized equipment that will allow for schools to expand their manufacturing programs. The MDE grant will provide equipment to the Kent Career Tech Center and will be available for use during summer programs.
“As a recipient of these grant funds, Kent ISD will be able to provide safe and cutting-edge welding technology to our current students in a variety of programs,” explained Campus Principal John Kraus. “These tools will allow students to practice to proficiency before actually cutting and attaching actual metal. This is safer, greener, and consumes considerable less material.”
Despite the fact that over 50% of products that are made in the United States require some level of welding, the job market is seeing a shortage of people who possess these skills. Expanding welding programs in Michigan is a result of the growing demand for these skills.
Michigan school districts are beginning to recruit people from the private sector into career-tech classrooms at public schools. These efforts are to combat the shortage of teachers, which has often led to districts having to cancel these courses in schools. The state even allows people with relevant business or industry experience to serve as teachers in these programs.
Kent ISD officials hope that adding these virtual machines to the Tech Center will increase interest in these types of skilled trades. Over the past few years, Kent ISD has invested in equipment for welding, like welding booths, tables, and an oxy/acetylene cutting area. With the new computer-based training systems, the center will allow for students to practice techniques without wasting materials and without undergoing extensive safety training before they begin actual welding.
In collaboration with Grand Rapids Community College, Kent ISD will be able to create an easier path for students to navigate the transition from high school to college, as well as into the workforce.
Kraus hopes the partnership with GRCC will allow the center to “see new opportunities for Tech Center students to earn college credit in welding technologies before finishing high school.”