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Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette
Phil Springer leads North Side’s Hire Technology program, aimed at industrial workforce development.

At North Side, industrial gear cranking out job-ready grads

Take a stroll through Phil Springer’s Hire Technology workshop at North Side High School and you’ll see sandblasters, band saws, lathes and laser engravers. In this place, kids can get their hands dirty, and it’s OK. That’s what they’re supposed to do.

For Thuya Aung, a 17-year-old junior who envisions going to Purdue University to study electrical engineering, the thrill of all these machines started back in the eighth grade when school officials came to his middle school and said “they needed more people in the industry.”

Now in his third year of Hire Technology training, he said his favorite thing is “just making and doing projects in the shop.” Before he gets his diploma, he hopes to have a summer job or internship geared toward his education. His machine of choice is the lathe, used to “make things round.”

Springer, who was named the state’s Best Legacy Hire Technology teacher in June, started teaching the Hire Technology course two years ago and now has 100 students in three levels offered at the school.

The two-year-old curriculum was designed by Conexus Indiana through the Indiana Department of Education, an initiative that began in 2007 with the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership that used a report “identifying key sectors where there was a skills gap,” according to Tracey Puckering, workforce development specialist at Conexus.

Even though Fort Wayne Community Schools offers career training in trades such as electrical, plumbing, computer and IT at the Anthis Career Center downtown, the Conexus program offers specific training in industrial manufacturing and logistics. Logistics, Springer says, “is the business of getting the right things to the right place at the right time in the right quantities.”

Industrial manufacturing? Well, take the 75 projector brackets that one of his classes made for the school. Students drilled holes to fit the overhead projectors and then bent the sides of the metal pieces using sheet metal working techniques. Developing prototypes, they were able to create “multiples.”

For Netanya Price-Flatt, a 17-year-old senior in her second year of Conexus, the work is like a puzzle, and she likes that. Although she’s looking to further her education once she graduates in the spring, she will leave with five industry certificates that will allow her to pick up good-paying jobs while she studies.

The students are being introduced to 21st century skills that are close to the job skills they need today, Springer said. Those skills entail computers but also hydraulic and pneumatic training, so students still “take hoses on and off and connect them.”

Students who are able to finish the three-year course will have up to 15 credits they can transfer to Ivy Tech, a Conexus partner and state-funded technology college. With a semester’s tuition of about $3,500, students can get an associate or two-year degree for less than $20,000.

North Side is the only FWCS high school to offer this program, one of four programs allowing students to gain college credits while attending high school.

In addition to the 100 Hire Technology students, 217 North Side juniors and seniors out of a total student body of 1,825 take courses at Anthis, said North Side Principal Chad Hissong, a proponent of vocational training.

“I encourage them to pick up one program at Anthis (Career Center), construction trades and auto mechanics, even for those who are headed toward college,” he said.

Springer, who was chosen for his award out of a field of 44 such teachers in the state, would probably not have found himself in academia had it not been for a friendship that developed with Dennis Fisher, a teacher of earth science and robotics at North Side.

They met when Springer mentored Fisher’s robotics team at Elmhurst High School, where Springer’s son was a student. When Fisher and Hissong moved to North Side, they asked Springer to come on board.

With Springer’s contacts in the industry, the workshop has filled up with all kinds of industrial machines, and businesses contact him to see whether he has any suitable candidates, he said.

Also, three local businesses help sponsor the program and send instructors occasionally: Fort Wayne Metals, GM and BAE Systems.

According to current industry reports, there is a list of jobs that will be difficult to fill, including skilled production workers, machinists, craft workers, distributors and technicians, Springer said.

Springer, 50, a graduate of Wayne High School and its industrial arts program, went to work for a siding contractor after high school, then spent 29 years as a tool and die maker in LaOtto.

His son Ian, 22, has followed into industrial manufacturing and is a welder at a business in Goshen.

Krista Stockman, FWCS spokeswoman, said the district will be tracking the success of the program to see whether it results in outside jobs but already the training “gives them an opportunity for a different kind of job while in college.”

And the alternative training will reach more students. “We know that not all students are on the same path in life,” she added.

jduffy@jg.net

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