Dealers are not the only ones struggling to find employees. Some manufacturers in the rural equipment space are experiencing the same problem and are turning to a partnership with a non-profit to find and train a workforce.

According to a story posted on BizTimes.comGPS Education Partners has partnered with local manufacturers to provide high school juniors and seniors with work-based education programs, in which students take courses on-site at the businesses, called “education centers,” and apply those lessons on the manufacturing floor. The non-profit is based in Brookfield, Wis., and launched in 2000. 

The organization has grown from just 5 students at Waukesha, Wis.-based Generac Power Systems Inc. in its initial year to now having served 500 students, in partnership with 100 businesses.

Now, as worker shortages persist and a growing number of schools look to bolster their career and technical education offerings, GPS is expanding its reach with a new service model.

The organization is beginning to provide consulting services to schools as they launch their own apprenticeship education programs — a hybrid of the traditional GPS education center model.

“It’s a change in how we are looking to provide more opportunities,” said Andy Hepburn, chief innovation officer. “We field a lot of questions from entities around the state of Wisconsin and outside of the state, saying, ‘That’s really innovative. How can we do that?’ So we’re working on creating partnerships where we’re more running alongside, providing expertise, training and resources and providing a service to folks who want to do some type of work-based learning or apprenticeships or career/technical education experience but don’t have the pieces to do it right away.”

Milwaukee Lutheran High School is that kind of school. Recognizing the need to expand its career and technical education offerings for students — about 25% of whom are on track to pursue a two-year degree or enter the workforce directly after graduation — the private school launched its Red Knight Institute Career Academy in 2015.

Through a partnership with Briggs & Stratton Corp., the school began offering an internship program, through which students clocked in four four-hour shifts per week at the company’s Burleigh, Wis., plant for a semester. It provided a basic, entry-level training experience for the students.

But back at school, leaders saw the need for a more robust manufacturing curriculum, said assistant principal Mike Waugh. Waugh met a GPS representative in 2016 and realized the organization had already developed the kind of curriculum he was seeking.

A new kind of partnership was forged — one that allows MLHS students to stay on campus in their recently renovated Career Academy wing and rely on GPS as a resource to navigate the school-business partnership.

Students enrolled in the program spend their school days on the MLHS campus, where school staff teach the manufacturing and safety training curriculum. Students then visit Briggs & Stratton to gain hands-on experience.

GPS has helped the school launch its introduction to manufacturing and advanced manufacturing courses and the school plans to launch a math for trades class next year.

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