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Although he was smiling, a twinge of apprehension was evident on the face of U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez on Tuesday as he strapped on a safety harness used by electrical workers to scale giant wind turbines.
Mr. Perez and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan — in the Toledo area to observe job-training programs for local youths and veteran skilled tradesmen — were invited to become simulated accident victims as part of an exercise in rescue techniques to aid workers injured while doing high wire or turbine repairs.
Mr. Perez said the entire day, which included a morning visit to the Toledo Technology Academy, was to allow himself and Mr. Duncan to observe first-hand how job-training programs and skills acquisition function in America at the micro level.
“I feel like John Glenn in the Mercury [capsule],” he joked while being outfitted for a mild 6-foot ascent up a training grid at the Toledo Electrical Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee facility on Lime City Road in Rossford.
“We can’t have just one secretary put on a [safety harness] outfit,” safety instructor and journeyman electrician Tim Thebeau said.
“Oh yes we can,” Mr. Duncan said, backing away quickly from Mr. Thebeau.
After a short climb by Mr. Perez, Mr. Thebeau went to work, methodically but gently lowering the labor secretary back to the floor, drawing praise for his skills. “You’re pretty good, sir,” Mr. Perez said, shaking hands.
The faux rescue was one of three stops that the two cabinet members made at the apprenticeship and training center. They also watched journeymen splice fiber-optic cable, and visited a class of students learning wind turbine maintenance and repair.
“We’ve been seeing partnership at work — at the high school level, at the apprenticeship level,” Mr. Perez explained. “We’ve got business, we've got labor unions, we’ve got higher education here together making sure that employers that want to grow their businesses have the skilled work force to compete.”
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In the fiber-optic classroom, Mr. Perez was fascinated by the skills journeyman Randy Artman of Hudson, Mich., had acquired to connect razor-thin cables without error.
“How do you do that when it’s 20 below?” Mr. Perez asked.
“It’s just part of our job,” Mr. Artman responded.
The labor secretary used the event to tout the new Registered Apprenticeship College Consortium, a new plan by the Obama Administration to boost community college graduation rates by giving college credit for job-training apprenticeships.
The consortium includes community colleges, businesses, labor unions, and industry organizations that will join in creating paid apprenticeships that qualify for academic credit. The labor secretary said 40 colleges have joined the consortium thus far and more are being sought.
“So we’re here today because [the Toledo center] is a model. It’s a model in action, it’s a model of partnership in action, and it’s a model of success,” Mr. Perez said.
Praise for partnership was a constant theme Tuesday. At Toledo Public Schools’ technology academy — a TPS magnet high school that mixes traditional coursework, hands on technological training, and internships — Mr. Perez and Mr. Duncan expressed support for both the school’s collaborative governing model and its team-based classes.
Technology students demonstrated for Mr. Duncan and Mr. Perez team-based projects, such as their competition robots. Joe Neyhart, a recent graduate, activated a robot and zipped it briefly forward, causing Mr. Duncan and Mr. Perez to jump back. Later, he used the robot’s hammer to knock a ball into the air, with Mr. Perez quickly retrieving it and then bouncing it like an oversized basketball.
The visitors from Washington quizzed students about their career plans and why they chose the Toledo Technology Academy. Hands-on experience, instead of lecture-based lessons, were more effective, students and staff told them.
“Not just learn the scientific method, but implement it,” student Alexis Smith said.
The secretaries also sat in briefly with the school’s governing board, which includes building and district administrators and union leaders, along with representatives from businesses affiliated with the school.
Board members emphasized that a bottom-up leadership approach and collaboration at the school have been core to its success. The school hears directly from major employers what skills they want out of workers. Students get vital experience with those employers while in high school. And teachers get a significant say in how the school is run.
The Toledo school district received a nearly $4 million grant this year, part of a federal program to make students career-ready through rigorous academic and career-focused curriculum. The district will use the money for between 125 and 150 students a year over the 54-month program at TTA, and Bowsher, Start, Waite, and Woodward high schools. TPS also will develop internships and eventually entry-level jobs with partnering businesses.
For years exclusively a high school, TTA will add grades seven and eight in the fall.
Contact Jon Chavez at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6128.