The Burlington School District, Southeastern Community College and two local construction companies on Tuesday were awarded a $30,000 Employer Innovation Fund grant through Gov. Kim Reynolds' Future Ready Iowa initiative.

That money, along with a matching donation from Great Western Bank, will allow Burlington High School, SCC, Carl A. Nelson & Co., and Brockway Mechanical & Roofing to launch a pre-apprenticeship program for students pursuing careers in construction trades. 

"This provides kind of a vehicle to different career options at (students') fingertips," said Ashlee Spannagel, dean of career and technical education and workforce development for SCC.

SCC long has offered construction trades classes, and the Burlington School District recently resurrected its construction trades program in an effort to better serve its students and the local workforce, but Spannagel said just because those courses are available doesn't mean they provide students with a clear pathway to employment.

With the pre-apprenticeship, however, students will be able to enter a job in their preferred field right out of high school with an industry-recognized credential under their belt. Those who want to further their education at SCC will be able to do so while earning an income.

Cory Johnson, curriculum director for the Burlington School District, who traveled Tuesday to Des Moines to accept the grant, along with Spannagel and SCC Director of High School Relations Michelle Brown, said BHS Principal David Keane had been looking into starting a pre-apprenticeship program for some time in the hopes of building onto the trades curricula already offered at BHS. The grant and matching donation — as well as the partnership with Carl A. Nelson and Brockway — will allow that to happen. The two companies have been increasingly involved with local construction trades programs as they seek to build their workforce.

Spannagel said the pre-apprenticeship program is especially important when considering the number of students living in generational poverty.

"One in four individuals in southeast Iowa are faced with generational poverty," Spannagel said, explaining having a clear, defined pathway to in-demand, high-wage career opportunities will help individuals lift themselves out of poverty.

Having taken into account the region's poverty level and the need to remove some of the barriers put in place by poverty, some of the grant money and matching dollars will be used to provide things like transportation and tool stipends for students. The money also will be used to cover equipment costs, professional development for SCC and BHS faculty members that will help them streamline the curriculum and career pathway, and for marketing the program to students with events like career expos.

"The can't be what they can't see," Spannagel said.

The pre-apprenticeship program is expected to be ready for students in the beginning of the 2020-21 school year. Juniors and seniors who have completed more basic construction trades classes will be eligible.