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Online school to help students become operating engineers (UPDATE)

By: Dan Shaw, [email protected]//February 17, 2016//

Online school to help students become operating engineers (UPDATE)

By: Dan Shaw, [email protected]//February 17, 2016//

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A lack of experience operating heavy equipment will no longer be a barrier to those interested in a career in the trades, at least if a new charter school has anything to do with it.

Students aspiring to become mechanics, surveyors and operators of heavy equipment will be able to get an early start to their training through an online high school organized by Fox Valley Technical College and the Operating Engineers Local 139.

This week, officials from both parties announced the new pre-apprenticeship program offered through Destinations Career Academy of Wisconsin, an online school that will be open to students in grades 9 through 12.

Those who enroll will be able to take classes grouped in four “clusters”: architecture and construction; business, management and administration; health science; and information technology.

The goal is to give students a head start in obtaining job and technical credentials, valuable work experiences and college credits.

Students who choose the construction pathway will get instruction meant to help them should they later choose to become an apprentice in one of the trades.

Terry McGowan, president of the Operating Engineers Local 139, said the move is yet another step to get the next generation interested in the trades. Additionally, it represents an adaptation to better train youth who may not have a lot of experience with heavy equipment.

No one under 18 years old can operate heavy equipment. The important exception to that, McGowan said, is for children working on their parents’ farms. A couple of decades ago, these young adults made easy transitions into the trades.

“We used to get farmboys right off the farm and they needed very little training” operating heavy equipment, he said. “But those days are gone.”

One thing most kids do understand nowadays, though, is how to navigate a computer.

McGowan said students who excel with these programs will be invited to summer camps held by Local 139 at its Coloma training site. The camps will give these students an opportunity to get some hands-on experience, he said.

Ever since the economy’s recovery from the recent recession, the construction industry has been struggling with a labor shortage.

McGowan also pointed out a stigma perpetuated by some that a student isn’t “going anywhere” unless they obtain a college degree. He said the classes will open doors to students who aren’t afraid to get dirt under their fingernails and work in a well-compensated field.

Officials say the classes will also give students a competitive edge in the job market.

“In growing and competitive industries we need to expand our support to students and empower them with employable skills so they can succeed in the workplace,” said Mike Cattelino, associate dean of Fox Valley Technical College, in a written statement.

The technical college will help the operating engineers develop the curriculum and organize both online and in-person classes. Instruction will come from a state-licensed teacher.

The Destinations Career Academy of Wisconsin is a nonprofit charter school. It is governed by an independent board of directors and is authorized by the McFarland School District.

The school is accepting enrollments through April 29. To learn more, go to

The Daily Reporter staff writer Alex Zank also contributed to this report.


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