MUNDY TOWNSHIP (WJRT) -
(05/09/14) - It's a career path not always taken.
Some Mid-Michigan teens already have one foot in the door at a decent paying job - that doesn't require a four-year degree.
At first glance, you might not notice who is operating these big machines with ease and precision.
Look closely. These teenagers have spent at least a year in the Genesee Area Skill Center heavy equipment program.
"This industry is actually hurting," said Tyler Curtis, Kearsley High School senior. "I'm actually going into the Marine Corps. I ship out July 23, and I'm going to do the reserves. When I get back, I'll get back into this field."
Technology Center principal Jim Ply says Tyler, and his classmates, have options.
"This is $20 or $30 an hour kind of skills when you're at the top of the trade, there's good money to be made. It's a career," he said.
This rodeo is a friendly competition between Genesee County students and their peers from Eaton County.
"You have to actually drop your bowling pin into each of the containers, and then bring it back to a stationary, and it's timed," Ply said.
Those skills have real value.
"If you can get a pin inside a hole in a PVC pipe, there's no reason why you can't go out and use that same equipment to dig a foundation," Curtis said.
Under the watchful eyes of the judges, these teens show how a soft touch is needed to operate the heavy stuff - and patience comes in handy, too.
While 80 percent of all skill center students move on to some form of post secondary schooling or training, many in this group will leave it ready for the real world.
"Understanding the basic operations, understanding the basic maintenance of the equipment, you could leave here, certified in ASE, and get a job," Ply said.
"You get paid pretty well, you get into the unions, get healthcare, 401Ks, something most jobs don't provide any more, and you just have a blast. I don't know anyone who doesn't like playing with heavy equipment," Curtis said.