A GenZ Connections class of 11 White Bear Lake Area Schools (WBLAS)’ Career Pathways students – four automotive and seven manufacturing – celebrated the completion of the six-week internship program on July 22 at Buerkle Automotive Group. The number of industry partners this summer grew to 12 – four automotive and eight manufacturing firms. 

To meet the need for a skilled workforce in a variety of fields, WBLAS’ Career Pathways program includes manufacturing, healthcare, IT and trades. The automotive pathway was recently added. “Students enrolled in Career Pathway classes learn industry-specific skills and, in some courses, may earn free college credit and industry-recognized credentials,” said Jenny Moore, career navigator. 

“The Career Pathways program helps students – and their parents – make informed decisions about post-secondary education and career choices, choices that assist with their future investment. … Students have a wide variety of opportunities within the construction, manufacturing, and automotive industries such as class instruction, industry-recognized credentials, paid internships, job shadowing, job site tours and additional on-and off-campus opportunities. All of these examples continue to support the need for a skilled workforce.”

Growing a skilled workforce for the Northeast Metro area has been a team-effort since 2017. That year Vadnais Heights Economic Development Corporation (VHEDC), White Bear Lake Area Schools (WBLAS), Ramsey County, Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry, local industry partners and White Bear Lake Area Educational Foundation partnered to create the GenZ Connections paid-internship program – to fine-tune the career goals of high school students and to grow a strong and sustainable workforce. That first summer class consisted of four students and four manufacturing firms.

“We’re proud to be a part of this program that enriches the career paths of students in the White Bear Lake Area School District,” said Vadnais Heights Economic Development Corporation Executive Director Liz Moscatelli.

The GenZ 2019 graduating class of interns (high school juniors and seniors) included automotive pathway students Angelo Gambino, Sam Sperry, Dean Isakson and Dante Mahmood; and manufacturing pathway students Harris Brekke, Kevin Lundgren, Jackie Vallejo, Andre Keller, Gavin Tschida, Kajuan Ramsey and Esteban Garrido Perez.  

This year’s Northeast Metro manufacturing and automotive industry partners included: Buerkle Automotive Group, Cummins, Fairway Collision Center, Herold Precision Metals, LasX Industries, Mold Craft, Renstrom Dental Studio, SCHWING America, Superior Machine, Teamvantage, The Specialty Manufacturing Company and Walser Automotive Group. Students were closely supervised and mentored in a wide variety of automotive and manufacturing tasks when they were interning with industry partners. Additionally, all students met with Career Pathways instructors for employability skills training, and manufacturing students completed an OSHA 10 training course.

“Our GenZ interns learned how dental crowns are made through a customized manufacturing process,” said Randi James, office manager for Renstrom Dental Studio. “Each crown is unique to each individual, and they were able to see how we manufactured with a combination of technology, science, and artistry.” 

Students had a chance to learn what it would be like to be a dental technician. “It’s difficult to find technicians entering our industry, and the GenZ program allows us to get in front of students entering the workforce and possibly spark some interest in a future career path,” James said. 

“GenZ is important to Mold Craft and the community because it helps students and parents make a positive connection between a viable career and manufacturing,” said Justin McPhee, vice president of engineering at Mold Craft. “Manufacturing is very high tech, pays well with benefits and the post-secondary education at community and technical colleges is affordable with students often graduating with no debt, as they’ve been working in the field as they go to school.”

“Buerkle Automotive’s participation in GenZ Connections provided a unique opportunity for us to collaborate with leaders from the local high school, members of the VHEDC Workforce Committee, industry partners within our own automotive industry, as well as industry partners from the local manufacturing community of businesses,” said Linda McDonough-Rees, human resources manager for Buerkle Automotive Group.

“Like many industries, the automotive industry is undergoing a large demand for new workers,” she added. “The automotive service technician career specifically is projected to need over 13,300 new technicians to meet the market demand between 2016 – 2026.”

Fairway Collision Center also offered automotive experience. “Each student that visited our facility was able to really see the entire repair process from beginning to end,” said Pam Caruth, co-owner and office manager. “They were able to spend some time with our body technicians along with the painters and detailers.”


Submitted by Vadnais Heights Economic Development Corporation

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