Jobs of the Future

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SkillsUSA Future Fair brings students, parents and businesses together

Nearly 70 businesses, organizations and agencies had booths to talk with students and, later in the afternoon, the general public about available jobs and opportunities during the SkillsUSA Future Fair at Oconto Falls High School on Thursday. (Times Herald photo by Warren Bluhm)

About 350 students from around the area interacted with representatives from 68 businesses, organizations and agencies Thursday during the SkillsUSA Future Fair at Oconto Falls High School.

The job fair was held to help address the need for skilled labor in the trade and manufacturing sectors as baby boomers retire.

Fair coordinator John Bursa, one of the three technical education teachers at Oconto Falls, said the goal was to bring the companies, students and parents together to share some of the career opportunities that are available.

The businesses had a chance to highlight what they have to offer in the way of youth apprenticeships, co-ops, internships and job shadowing programs and pass along information about what the students will need to get started on successful careers.

Bursa also led a tour that included the school’s wood and metal shops, the motorcycle lab and electrician classroom with the other faculty members, David Heisel and Matt Beschta.

“The biggest thing we work on here is safety,” Bursa told visitors as he stood in the machine shop. “We’re at 638 days without an injury, which we define as anything that requires medical attention outside the building.”

Every 100 days of safe operation, the teachers throw a pizza party — which provides an added reminder and incentive to pay attention to safety, he said.

“So we get to about 590, 595 days, the seniors are making sure the freshmen know to be wearing gloves, everything’s set to go,” he said. “Because in five more days, they’re getting their pizza.”

Bursa noted that Oconto Falls has done well in the annual competition hosted by SkillsUSA, an organization of students, teachers and industry professionals working together to promote a skilled workforce.

The school has had 20 state champions in areas like CNC, machining and carpentry, which qualifies them for the national competition. Oconto Falls boasts two third-place showings at nationals through the years.

Most recently, Jared VanHaren placed fifth in metal fabrication at nationals last summer and hopes to return this year, Bursa said.

Beschta said the motorcycle lab is the only high school facility in the state that has a dynamometer, a device that allows a mechanic to put a motorcycle through its paces while in a stationary position.

“When we run the dyno, people all over the school know it,” Beschta said. “People will actually stop to see what’s going on. When you take a bike and you get to run it up to 170 mph, you’re not going anywhere. But still, it’s a lot of fun.”

Harley-Davidson donated three dozen motorcycles for students to work on, he said. Students are shown how to break down the engine and transmission for repairs and then rebuild them, and then each is assigned a bike to work on during the semester.

“It runs when it’s given to them,” Beschta told the tour group. “At the end of the semester, it needs to run when they give it back to me. Because in a dealership, you don’t get to say, ‘Oh, I’m sorry. Your bike doesn’t work anymore.’”

Heisel said the students have performed cabinetry and electrical wiring work on a variety of projects, usually in an area within 10 to 12 minutes of the school so they can do the work in conjunction with classes.

The future fair was coordinated with the help of Unlimited Services, a local business that employs many trade-related positions, Bursa said.