Confidence is a Skill Built in Detroit Lakes

Confidence is a Skill Built in Detroit Lakes Main Photo

6 Jan 2023


Educational experiences for many can be quite difficult and vary significantly from person to person. As individuals approach the end of their high school years, some are conflicted about what options to pursue after graduation, while others struggle just to stay in school. For all, the possibilities typically come down to opportunities. 

“Much of our intent is to help students figure out they do not necessarily have to go on to college,” said Dennis Weaver, Detroit Lakes Area Learning Center (ALC). “Learning a skill or trade through a program like YouthBuild in high school helps them realize there are well-paying careers they might enjoy.”

Focus on employment

YouthBuild is a program managed by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) that provides specialized training, work experience and education for youth, ages 16 through 24, who are at risk of not completing their high school education. Many are economically disadvantaged or experience disabilities. Its general purpose is to give participants the skills and leadership traits necessary for construction, landscaping and building trades.

The Rural Minnesota Concentrated Employment Program (CEP) obtained a $75,000 grant through DEED grant to run a YouthBuild program in Detroit Lakes in 2022 and 2023. Along with the funding, Rural MN CEP provided a tool trailer for several teachers at Detroit Lakes High School and the ALC to implement the program for 16 students over the past year. 

“My first goal as a teacher is to make these kids employable when they graduate and help them understand how to stay employed,” said Phil Kirchner, Special Education teacher at Detroit Lakes High School.

Kirchner led a 2022 summer program for four students with an Individualized Education Program to help them get on a path toward graduation. He met with them four days a week, Monday through Thursday, to concentrate on skill development. It started small, with general maintenance at the Community Center baseball fields or grooming the ball diamonds. It progressed to a dugout bench construction and introductions to safely using power tools. Painting at the Many Points Boy Scout Camp was another activity. 

“It basically was an introduction to a full-time job, such as wearing their uniform every day or keeping it clean,” said Kirchner. “A lot of the program is about teaching the soft skills necessary to exist in the working environment.”

Weaver led a dozen students through a program at the ALC during the school year, meeting two hours every Friday. This year, he introduced them to construction or welding careers, starting with learning to use power equipment safely and continuing with tasks like building shelves for their tool trailer or bag tables.

“Most of the kids enjoy being out of a classroom setting, working with their hands, learning a skill and helping each other, '' said Weaver. “We are looking to create experiences for them to  see if they like something that could be a possible career.”

Beyond learning the trade skills, students earn academic credit toward graduation and are paid $12.25/hour, with a $1/hour incentive to be on time. 

“They need to show up on time, learn to work as a team and put in the work, but the kids were pretty excited about the plan and the tasks they had,” said Kirchner.

Confidence for Life

Kelley Nowell with Rural Minnesota CEP said the involvement students gain increases their confidence in themselves.

“At the end of a project, they can point to something they accomplished with pride and draw strength from them,” said Nowell.

Kirchner said he looks forward to the opportunity to get more kids involved and more time to work with them.

“The program keeps the kids energized and motivated,” he said. “When they are working, they are learning.”