Ogallala High School students benefit from MPCC Ready-to-Work program

ready to work
Friday, February 2, 2024

Ogallala High School students put together a building at the Mid-Plains Community College Ogallala Campus Tuesday with oversight from Casey Craig, owner of Unit #24 Welding and Construction. Pictured left to right are: students Michael Redden and Austyn Gleason, both of Ogallala, and Craig.

Students from Ogallala High School are gaining valuable skills in applied technology thanks to a new Ready-to-Work Building Construction program.

The program, offered through the Mid-Plains Community College Ogallala Campus, was designed with a dual purpose in mind. It provides an educational opportunity for students who might be interested in a career in the trades and also serves as an effort to meet workforce needs in Keith County.

“We know education is changing, and we know employers are looking to hire people with skills, not just degrees,” said Mary Pierce, MPCC Ogallala Campus administrator. “Most contractors in Keith County would love to hire entry-level employees with skills.”

Casey Craig, owner of Unit #24 Welding and Construction in Ogallala, is one of them. He is the instructor for the class.

“There’s definitely a lot of need for laborers in general in the trades, let alone someone who has the basic skills,” Craig said. “That’s what we are trying to teach here, so [these students] can come into the field and have the basic skills and knowledge to be useful. I took this position because I’ve been trying to hire someone for the past two years and finally came to the realization that I could either continue complaining about it or do something about it – not just for my business and my sake but for the rest of the community.”

The RTWBC program is based out of the MPCC Ogallala Campus.

The four students in the program were selected through the high school. Together, they are building a 16 by 20-foot structure that could be used for a variety of purposes such as a tiny house, shed or workshop. It will have a porch and railing on the front.

The students are learning all aspects of home building in the process – everything from framing and windows to trusses and roofing.

“I was excited when I heard about this opportunity because I want to go into building construction,” said Hailey Tolander, a junior at Ogallala High School. “We’re learning about measurements and how to cut stuff. It’s been a really fun learning experience.”

The class meets two days per week. Work started in January and will continue into March. After successful completion of the program, the students will receive a Building Construction Technology certificate from MPCC.

The finished building will be auctioned in the spring, and proceeds will be put toward a future class.

“The MPCC Ready-to-Work program has been a great experience for our students,” said John O’Neil, principal of Ogallala High School. “The opportunity to work on this project has been fun and rewarding for them. Through hands-on learning, they’re not only gaining construction skills, but also building a foundation of resilience, teamwork and tangible skills that will last a lifetime.”

The MPCC Ogallala Campus is able to offer the RTWBC program for free thanks to a combination of grant funding and sponsors.

The majority of funds for RTWBC came from an $8,333 grant that will be provided annually over five years by the Nebraska Investment Finance Authority’s Teaching Nebraska Trades program.

Teaching Nebraska Trades is designed to encourage students to enter the construction trades, especially those focused on residential housing, and to motivate them to seek out training at the community college level.

The overall goal is to build sustainable programs supporting trade education in Nebraska after the initial pilot years have concluded.

Local and regional businesses, including Ogallala’s Mead Lumber and First Star Recycling, also contributed materials for the RTWBC program.

More information about the MPCC Ogallala Campus and the various programs it offers is available at: mpcc.edu/campuses/ogallala.php.