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Valley News Dispatch

Oberg Industries expands program to introduce high school students to tool-and-die jobs

Emily Balser
| Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2018, 12:33 a.m.
Students from Highlands and Deer Lakes high schools work during a class on manufacturing held at Oberg Industries in Buffalo Township on Thursday, Dec. 20, 2018.
Students from Highlands and Deer Lakes high schools work during a class on manufacturing held at Oberg Industries in Buffalo Township on Thursday, Dec. 20, 2018.
Deer Lakes senior Luke Smith, 17, gets help making measurements on a piece of steel from Oberg Industries instructor Dick Edder during a class on Thursday, Dec. 20, 2018.
Deer Lakes senior Luke Smith, 17, gets help making measurements on a piece of steel from Oberg Industries instructor Dick Edder during a class on Thursday, Dec. 20, 2018.

Local tool-and-die manufacturer Oberg Industries is partnering with high schools to help students get a leg up when it comes to getting a job after graduation.

The Buffalo Township company is expanding its pre-­apprentice program that provides training and national certifications for students who may be interested in pursuing a more hands-on job after high school.

The pre-apprentice program started in 2014 with Highlands High School as a way to educate students on the manufacturing industry and give them an advantage when entering the workforce.

This year, it has expanded to Deer Lakes High School, and company officials hope to expand it to two more schools next year.

“There’s a curriculum that they follow through the school year, and then they come to Oberg to do the hands-on portion,” said Linda Wood, training programs manager with Oberg. “They learn about machining, and it helps them make a decision — ‘Is this something I would like to do?’ ”

Oberg makes the tools that make products such as razor handles, medical devices and heli­copter parts.

“It’s taking a hunk of metal and learning how to run the machine that will use all of the different milling tools and make something out of that chunk of metal,” Wood said.

Students learn about machine safety, measurements, how to read a blueprint, how to lay out a project to be machined and metal scribing, among other skills. They receive accreditation through the National Institute for Metalworking Skills as well as a pre-apprentice certificate from the state.

“They’re actually graduating from high school with credentials in their pocket,” Wood said.

Students plan for future

Highlands senior Aidan McIntire, 17, said he plans to join the Marines after he graduates, but he’s taking part in the pre-apprentice program because he wants to have the skills to come out of the military and get a job.

“I’m definitely thinking of it as a job opportunity,” he said.

Deer Lakes senior Dom Miller, 17, said he has been able to apply a lot of the engineering and related skills he’s used in other classes to the manufacturing lessons.

“All that past experience has helped translate into this,” he said.

Miller said he’s happy to be graduating with some credentials that he can take with him wherever he goes.

“They can be used all over the country,” he said.

Deer Lakes senior Luke Smith, 17, said he is looking forward to the day they start using the machines. Up until now, it’s been mostly bookwork.

“It’s pretty interesting,” he said. “I’d like to do some hands-on stuff.”

Highlands helps meet students’ needs

When the program started, Highlands teachers had identified a group of students who they felt were being underserved when it came to preparing them for their options after high school.

“In conjunction with some of the managers at Oberg, we started to conceptualize how a high school could tailor classes that would prepare students for the transition into precision manufacturing,” said John Malobicky, a Highlands teacher who is involved with the program.

Since it started, the school has had nearly 20 students go on to apprenticeships and then jobs in the manufacturing field.

“You would see a maturity not only in just their behavior, but also in the depth of conversation that they had about things,” said Michael Santucci, a Highlands teacher who is involved in the program. “I knew that we kind of had something special at that point.”

Overcoming the stigma of ‘blue collar’

Malobicky and Santucci said one of their biggest hurdles is getting parents on board with encouraging their children to pursue options besides college.

“There are a lot of parents who are not sure about the idea of going into an apprenticeship program,” Santucci said. “The fact is: It’s not a bad thing to do that.”

Deer Lakes tech education teacher Jeff Fullem said he’s happy to see a shift back to more skilled trades jobs. He said he’s seen schools get away from training for those jobs and more of an emphasis toward pursuing four-year college degrees such as engineering.

Fullem thinks there’s room for both in the workforce.

“The tech stuff can’t be done without all the hands-on,” Fullem said. “There are good jobs out there.”

Emily Balser is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Emily at 724-226-4680, emilybalser@tribweb.com or via Twitter @emilybalser.

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