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Park Rapids students apprentice at TEAM

Nathaniel Barret (left) and Matthew Belina (right) pose in front of one of the Computer Numerically Controlled (CNC) lathes at TEAM Industries they have been receiving training on during their apprenticeship that began in March. (Nicole Vik/ Enterprise)

It has been five weeks since Nathaniel Barret and Matthew Belina began their Certified Youth Apprenticeship at TEAM Industries in Park Rapids and according to them they are enjoying the experience.

“I like it. I think it’s pretty interesting,” Belina said.

The high school students were selected for the program by Denny Sleen, the industrial technology teacher at Park Rapids Area High School.

“TEAM was looking for two or three students,” Sleen explained in choosing Barret and Belina. “These guys have been through the classes as freshman on up and they were interested, so it was a good fit.”

The program is a good partnership between education and industry.

“Denny has done such a great job with these kids,” said Glen Breitweser, production manager at TEAM Industries.

He is impressed with how prepared the students were coming into the program. “The mentors that have been working with them knew that they had some training.”

Sleen had to complete training of his own in order to update his knowledge to include the Computer Numerically Controlled (CNC) technology. The school already had mills and lathes, but they were not as technologically advanced.

Sleen attended classes for a total of 10 days in various places throughout Minnesota in order to learn how to run the new equipment provided by TEAM.

“CNC is not my background so I had to learn how to run that equipment before I could teach it,” Sleen explained. “Once I taught it to these guys they would remember it more than I would a week later.”

“There are so many buttons and toggle switches and offsets and all these other things you’ve got to try to program to it,” Belina interjected. “It’s a lot to remember.”

PRAHS was among several other schools to receive a donation from TEAM for the purchase of a new CNC mill.

“In pursuit of trying to find some grants to get the equipment, TEAM was already in the process of working on this,” Sleen said, referring to how PRAHS got involved in the program.

The program offers students the opportunity to receive on the job training in a technical related field under the guidance of mentors.

“I talked to all of the mentors before I brought them into it,” Breitweiser explained. “I picked the four that I thought would work really well with being

a mentor to these guys.”

Heidi McDeid, Human Resources Manager at Park Rapids’ TEAM referenced the benefits of the program.

“They’re mechanical kids who like working with their hands, but they don’t know where to take any of that,” she said.

Currently, the two apprentices work about 15 to 17 hours per week. According to Breitweser, he tries to move them around to different work stations in the facility to give them some variety and more experience.

This gives the students an opportunity to experience different facets of the industry and show them that there are many more career possibilities than they may have initially thought, Breitweser said.

“It is a good way for them to get into something to see that they wouldn’t necessarily have to go to college if they didn’t want to,” Breitweser explained. “Or they could and still be able to

work in this type of field.”

“There’s lots of room for improvement we can move up as an engineer or a tool operator or whatever,” Belina said.

“They are definitely making an investment in you,” Angie Kuehn, the licensed work-based learning coordinator told the guys in mentioning the possibilities that TEAM is presenting. “And they’re hoping that you will stay, or come back.”

According to McDeid, the apprentices each need to complete a total of 450 training hours in order to finish the apprenticeship.

As a senior, Barret will be graduating this spring and plans to work on his apprenticeship through the summer. As of right now his plans for the fall are undecided.

“I don’t know. We’ll see what happens, I guess,” he said.

As a junior, Belina plans to complete his apprenticeship throughout the summer and into next school year in order to gain school credit.

As the point of contact through the school, Kuehn will have to continue her evaluations throughout the summer. It is a school program and the hours worked will need to be monitored for school credit.

Now, having some experience under their belts, McDeid and Breitweser both felt that the program may be better geared toward students interested in participating both their junior and senior years.

“To be able to complete the full 450 hours you’re really looking at junior and senior year,” Breitweser said, referring to the limitations as to how many hours the students can work through the school’s work exchange program.

According to McDeid, with the apprenticeship being brand new there is a lot that needs to be worked out going forward into next year as all parties wish to continue with the program.

“The apprenticeship just got started so we’re trying to get everybody doing the same thing and figure out how we go forward to proceed with the program,” Breitweser added.

“We’re the last TEAM to take on apprentices because Park Rapids runs on trimesters,” McDeid said. “So we’re kind of following suit with a lot of stuff they’re doing and feedback they’re getting from their students.”

If, at the end of their apprenticeship, the guys choose to stay on as employees and there were jobs available they wouldn’t have to re-apply through the staffing agency, McDeid said.

“Even though they are part of the program, they are TEAM employees,” she said of the paid apprenticeship.

Barret and Belina say the apprenticeship has been a good experience for them so far and they both have already learned a lot.