THORTON, Colo. — On Tuesday, March 28 FutureForward at Bollman and Washington Square, a career and technical education program, received accreditation from the AED Foundation for its high school Diesel Program.
The AED Foundation is a non-profit organization for the heavy equipment industry that works to improve the availability and quality of equipment industry employees. The high school accreditation program recognizes the hard work invested into the next generation of technicians and helps facilitate the pipeline from these high schools into dealer programs or post-secondary education.
Accreditation from the AED Foundation expands the career opportunities for students by developing and facilitating relationships with dealers. The biggest benefit of being accredited, according to Senior Director of Workforce and Industry Initiatives at the AED Foundation, Sean Fitzgerrel, is the assistance from AED WorkForce Development Coordinators who build relationships back to industry leaders and dealerships.
“The technician shortage crisis has gotten worse, and we saw this (accreditation process) as a way to address the skills gap,” Fitzgerrel said. “If we can start getting some basics done at the high school level before going into post-secondary education, they’re better prepared going into the dealership. The most important part of all of this is having industry support. There’s such a critical need to build a sustainable pipeline going into dealer programs or going to a post-secondary program at a college.”
Fitzgerrel added that it is vital to build awareness around the fact that there are several opportunities outside of what many students are familiar with. According to FutureForward principal, Marvin Lewis, a large part of their mission at Washington Square is to widen student’s scope of career choices.
“Years ago, counselors were counseling that you have to go to college, but we’ve made some ingrowths about choice,” Lewis said. “We support college, we have many kids that leave our program and go to college. We also support going to work right away, or if you want to get your associates degree with the college credit you’ve already earned, and we are a big military supporter.”
Lewis says that partnering with 4Rivers Equipment and other dealers helps create a pipeline where students can be confident in earning a high wage, high-demand job after graduation. He said the key to building more places like Washington Square is the continual education of the quality jobs available in trades.
“To have partners that come in and help us do that, bridge the gap, and help us hold those kids’ hands as they go on to post high school and post-secondary is awesome,” Lewis said. “How we get more Washington Squares is to continue advocating that this is not ‘less than,’ it is not even close to ‘less than.’ This is high-wage, high-demand and we want to embrace that this is not even an alternative. I don’t like that word; I don’t like vocational. These are highly skilled students that have a great future ahead.”
At FutureForward, the track to becoming a trained technician, or whatever other path the student choses, begins in sixth and seventh grade with career exploration. Lewis says they tour every eighth grader in the entire school system and talk about the different careers available to them. Throughout high school, FutureForward provides career counseling and hands-on learning curriculums. In the Diesel Program, students are rebuilding motors by their second year.
“When they come in the first year, they learn everything mechanical and what it takes to be a technician,” Lewis said. “When they come back the second year, they did deep, they rebuild motors and get into electrical. The third year, they jump out and go work with an employer part time. All those things put them in a great space that by the time a student graduates from our Diesel Program, they are highly qualified.”
4Rivers Equipment looks forward to continuing its partnership with FutureForward’s Diesel Program and is passionate to support students so they can be successful in heavy equipment careers.
“I can’t thank the FutureForward administrators and faculty enough for what they are doing for the industry and for these students,” 4Rivers Equipment CEO John Shearer said. “Even if these students don’t go into the industry, they’re getting skills they will own for the rest of their lives, nobody can take that away from them.”