High schoolers prepare for careers
Welding, machinery, industrial positions offer high-paying jobs
by ARIEL McRAE | Associate Editor
In a time when college is the preferred career path most parents would like for their children to take, one career technical education course at Humboldt Jr./Sr. High School is a hidden gem for students looking to find work directly after graduation.
During his nine years as a teacher, Randy Prince, manufacturing instructor, has maintained the belief that the welding and machining shop courses at HJSHS is the best kept secret of Humboldt. The kids who enroll in his CTE welding and machinery focus area are taught how to work with their hands and develop skills that will follow them for the rest of their lives.
Prince’s courses are usually only available for sophomores and upperclassmen, but recently, some freshmen have been allowed to join as well. When a student decides to make the welding and machinery CTE course their elective focus, the first class that really introduces them into the shop world is called principles of manufacturing. From there, the student will then have the option to take welding and machinery. Once courses I and II are completed, students who have a passion for welding are ready for work during their senior year.
Prince described his teaching style as 90-percent shop and 10-percent classroom because he prefers his students ‘learn by doing’ on something real. At the beginning of the course there is a test on safety so the students can learn what to do and what not to do around the equipment. Prince said he likes to bring the kids to his shop, show them around and let them partner up with a senior to watch firsthand how the tools work. After the students have a grasp on what is in the shop and how it works, they take their safety test. Prince said it is better for them to be tested on safety after they know what to stay safe from because they have seen it with their own eyes.
High school workshops not too long ago went through a culling process, according to Prince. Humboldt Jr./Sr. High School never closed its shop doors to students. Prince said that was due to Thomas Raines, Wayne Sheehan and Guy Causey fighting to keep the shop up and running. Without them, the program could have easily been terminated at the school like so many others in Gibson County.
Because of the fight to keep the shop, the students have an array of tools at their disposal to receive the most knowledge and experience they can during their time in school. With the ‘real-world shop’, CNC and manual equipment provided by the school, the students can fully learn the ins and outs of machining, fabrication and maintenance. Prince said the shop would help them learn what area of welding they will excel best at and what jobs to look out for in their future.
Back in 2020, the school’s workshop received some much-needed funds from Bongards to make necessary renovations to accommodate more students and equipment. The $100,000 grant allowed the school to make improvements on the building itself by demolishing walls to expand the shop, fixing electrical circuits and exhaust systems while rebuilding and replacing them, remodel the boys’ restroom, as well as, replace and buy new CTE equipment.
With the updates and new tools, the students have worked on countless projects for not only the school but also around Gibson and Madison counties. Some of the projects the juniors and seniors have diligently worked on were staircases for churches and a community center, doors for the school, handrails, and most notably, the students built a wheelchair ramp for a disabled Humboldt Viking student in order to make entering and leaving her house more independently manageable. The CTE students have done several machining projects for local factories and continue to take projects to not only keep the kids busy and learning, but also for them to make a little money along the way.
With each project, those that work on it are paid for their labor. Every project is quoted differently, so the amount earned varies, but it is enough to keep the kids hungry, passionate and yearning for more. Prince mentioned that one senior recently just bought his own car from his earnings made during his time within the CTE course. He also bought his insurance in full for six months. Prince said the lessons he is teaching in class offer freedom with the ability to have options, which is vital and invaluable at such a young age. They leave school with a head start towards their career dreams.
Prince also explained that the HJSHS shop prepares students for work after graduation without the need to necessarily go to an expensive trade school. He did have high praise for the industrial maintenance program at Jackson State Community College after visiting with a student interested in the course. When a student enrolls in the industrial maintenance program, they learn advanced material in the lab while also learning and implementing their newfound knowledge on the job. It allows for the students in the program at Jackson State to not have to sacrifice financial responsibilities for furthering their education.
Most of the kids that take the CTE course taught by Prince end up with multiple job offers before they graduate. Prince tries to go with his students to check out the job offers and the locations where they would be working to help them decipher if the company offering a position is a good fit for that particular student or if they should wait for another offer from a different business.
One way Prince helps his students prepare for work outside of school is by helping them learn how to say ‘no’. He stated that was one of the most important things he could teach them because it allows them to know what jobs are feasible and which jobs are better left alone. Though, jokingly, he did say sometimes when he knows a job is a little too hard, he will let them say ‘yes’ so they can learn their lesson on the value of saying ‘no’ in a controlled environment.
This lesson on when to say ‘no’ is important for the future as well as during summer breaks because the shop stays open year-round. Prince said he is constantly taking projects in the summer and he chooses a few students to help him complete those jobs so they can continue gaining experience while also earning money.
Prince bragged on the students heavily, insisting that they are great kids and good workers. With pride, he described how well some of his students work together. He said he
likes for the students to do partner learning because it really helps the students learn how to communicate with one another. He said in one instance a student may step in with their partner to help them through a particularly hard part of a project while later the kid who was having trouble in one area will help his partner in return with a skill in which he excels. Prince states he loves that none of the kids who come through his classes are afraid to try. They will go after anything he sets in front of them, even if it takes them a while to figure it out.
“Patience is really the hardest thing to come by because I am used to being in the shop—we have to go, go, go,” Prince said of his experience. “I wind up [wanting to tell the students] ‘just give it to me and I’ll do it,’ but I have learned to just give them some time and give them some patience [and they will get it].”
Currently, Prince and the school are working on a grant for their shop to receive a 3D printer. The goal is for the students to travel to businesses and create scan files for them to be 3D printed, which is in high demand. With the continued advancement of the shop and priceless hands-on education, the students in the welding and machining class are truly getting the best education afforded to them.
Hopefully, this ‘best kept secret’ will stop being a secret. Because word is that Prince and the students in the HJSHS shop are itching to learn, open for business and ready to tackle whatever project comes their way.