Grandville HS combines focus on higher education with skilled trades

GRANDVILLE, Mich. (WOOD) — Job data shows there will continue to be many opportunities in the skilled trades in the next decade as more students explore alternatives to a four-year or two-year college education.

Administrators at Grandville High School have found a way to combine the two options and set students up for even more success.

Ron Denning has been a technology education teacher at GHS for 20 years. He has seen a boomerang effect, of sorts, when it comes to skilled trades classes.

“During the time I’ve taught here, in the beginning, there was a heavy push for skilled trades then it kind of died off quite a bit and turned into a push to be college-bound. Now, it’s swinging right back, which is great because we need these skilled trades,” he said.

One difference he’s noticed is that not all of the students who take the classes are going into skilled trades but rather will end up at a four-year college or in the general workforce.

“But a lot of (the classes) are life skills too. So even if (the students) don’t go into these, they’re learning things like home maintenance and repair, for example,” Denning said. “They can save a lot of money or make a lot of money by learning these things.”

Students are also finding ways to combine their love of hands-on work with goals of higher education.

Brady Seabert is a senior who has spent a lot of time in the technology classes, including woodshop, where he is most proud of building a table that now gets used every day in his home.

“It was a big project and felt good to have it all come together at the end. That feeling that you just created something, you can’t get that doing anything else,” Seabert said.

His course load right now includes a lot of classes that don’t require hands-on activity, like Advanced Placement Calculus. His goal is to become an engineer at an automotive company.

“I would hope to focus on engine components. As long as I’m part of that huge process, I’ll be happy,” Seabert said.  

He says he has seen the way the hands-on learning required in his technology classes has helped him with theoretical learning.

“It teaches you not only how to do the things that you’re doing physically but the generic art of problem-solving. It teaches you how to deal with unfamiliar situations. I think that is really good going into college too. I can search for an alternate solution which absolutely applies to math or science classes where you need to sometimes look outside the box to find the answer,” he said.

The push for skilled trades may go along with “what’s old is new again,” but Denning says a lot has changed in those industries with new technology. They offer classes not called “CAD” classes, which is Computer Assisted Drawing.

“We do teach a semester of technical drawing, which is drafting just like it used to be with a T-square, parallel bar, pencil and paper. They can really get those fundamentals but then from there. It goes on to (Computer Assisted Drawing) then we have 3D CAD classes as well as architectural drawing,” Denning said. “Through the years, the software has changed greatly, just the complexity of it.”

Denning thinks that has made it easier for students to learn even for those who don’t plan to do the building themselves, understanding how that process works can make them better employees.

“You can learn architecture, for example, by the book and apply to the computer and everything but if you really have a true understanding of the inner workings of a house, it just pushes you that much further,” said Denning.