Irondale High School Career Navigator and Work-Based Learning Coordinator Angela Zappa challenges her students to think about their future after high school.
Zappa has conversations about careers with her students and has built a curriculum around helping students with an interest in construction connect with relevant work opportunities and programs that support their career exploration process.
“More than 1,700 students are enrolled at Irondale High School (located in New Brighton). I help students identify their skills, explore careers of interest, and investigate steps needed to enter that specific career pathway,” Zappa said. “A four-year college degree isn’t the right fit for all students, especially with the variety of training options through apprenticeship programs, technical colleges and workforce training programs intended to propel students into a high-demand career.”
In her career at Irondale, Zappa’s experiences as an educator have made her realize the importance of developing foundational academic skills alongside employability skills so that students can find success in a fulfilling career after high school.
“I’ve taught English, Special Education and eventually moved into the Work-Based Learning coordinator role. During my time as a work coordinator, I’ve heard the cries from trades and manufacturing fields due to the shortage of skilled workers. There’s so much opportunity for our students who want to work with their hands,” Zappa said.
Zappa teaches two courses at Irondale: Careers Plus and Trades and Manufacturing Career Exploration.
“The ‘Plus’ in Career Plus is the On-the-Job training part of our program; at Irondale we recognize many of our students already work part-time jobs. When possible, we try to match their career interests with their part-time jobs,” Zappa said. “Some students are helping their families by contributing to monthly bills and it’s important that they understand their salary, benefits, and career advancement opportunities.”
Career Exploration Courses at Irondale
Irondale High School offers a variety of technical education courses to students including Engineering, Small Engines, Digital Electronics, Welding, and a course titled “How to Make Almost Anything” (a woodshop and general construction focused course). Mounds View students also have the opportunity to enroll in these courses.
In addition to these skills courses, Zappa supports trades and manufacturing focused students with career exploration courses such as her Careers Plus program and a new course called Trades and Manufacturing Career Exploration.
“I know that name is a mouthful, but we wanted to be clear about what exactly happens in this new course: OSHA 10 Safety Training, job site tours, apprenticeship training center tours, guest speakers, and field trips such as Construct Tomorrow,” Zappa said.
We didn’t know how many students would register for this new class, but the response represented an overwhelming interest in the construction trades and excitement for touring real workplaces.
“There was enough student interest to offer two full classes next year,” Zappa said. “We worked with the dean team to identify students whose interests would be a good fit for this program, and we’re double what we had hoped for in response.”
As an educator who thrives on helping students ‘find their fit,’ Zappa is thrilled at the student body interest in her new course.
In response to a growing demand for trades professionals nationally, Zappa also investigated internship opportunities that her trades students could explore locally through community partnerships and employers.
Less than two miles from Irondale High School, Johnson Screens, a fabricator of water well screens earned approval from the Minnesota Department of Labor as a Youth Skills Training (YST) program site.
“YST Project Manager, Rich Wessels, helped us form this partnership between Johnson Screens and build the pathway for student employment,” Zappa said. “We now have four students, ages 16-18, placed as welding interns at Johnson Screens this summer whether it be part time, weekends, or full time.”
Irondale Partners with the Minnesota Trades Academy to Bring Summer Construction Internships to Tech Ed Classes
“Our goal in the Career and Technical Education department is to prepare students for a successful career by connecting skills learned in the classroom to skills needed for success and growth in a career,” Zappa said.
That’s where the Minnesota Trades Academy (MTA) comes in. Hosted by the Minneapolis-St. Paul-based nonprofit Construction Careers Foundation, the Minnesota Trades Academy is a paid summer construction trades internship program that gives high school students ages 16 to 21 years old training and mentorship in real construction trades careers.
The program consists of two tracks of study. The Track I internship program focuses on hands-on building with tools and an introduction to construction career opportunities. Track II focuses on guiding students interested in a career in construction through apprenticeship union training center tours, including training in how to participate in an interview, often one of the first steps in securing a real-life apprenticeship with a Minnesota construction trade union.
“Our partnership with MTA is 10 years strong. We’re super proud of this partnership because it gives our students access to union training centers and hands-on experience. It allows them to meet people in the field and try out different trades to see what careers they like,” Zappa said. “We have four students from our Mounds View District who will be participating in MTA this summer, and historically we’ve received overwhelmingly positive reviews of the program because our students get paid well, get job training and some take the connections they make and pursue a career in the trades.”
Zappa prioritizes sending out the call for MTA applications.
“We host Program Manager Lindsay Tallman to talk about the program to our tech ed students,” Zappa said. “Students come into my office for appointments to fill out the application and prepare for the interview process; it’s a multi-step process that leads to big opportunities for our Irondale students.”
Zappa’s Advice to Educators Seeking to Incorporate Construction in their Curriculum
“Look to your community for support. At Irondale, that’s Mindy Handberg, Director of Community Partnerships at Mounds View Public Schools,” Zappa said. “She deserves a big thank you because she keeps our schools connected with our community by reaching out to potential local partners, businesses and programs for our students to get real world experience.”
For educators working to develop a program or build those connections, Zappa recommends engaging directly with technical education teachers and learning how you can support them and the students moving through the courses.
One place to start gathering resources is ConstructionCareers.org, where educators can gather career-specific information and general information on the apprenticeship process for Minnesota’s construction trades.