A unique six-week program that prepares students for careers operating heavy equipment is drawing attention from employers, potential students and funders.
“I could not see myself going to college, spending the money needlessly, not knowing exactly what I wanted to do,” says Carissa Forsythe, 26, who was offered a full-time position before graduating from the SOFTEC Education program April 15. “At a young age, I always wanted to operate equipment because it looked fun.”
SOFTEC Education, based in Siren, uses a high-tech simulator to teach students how to operate an excavator and other heavy machinery. With the simulator and some later real-world training, executive director Tim D’Jock says students are ready for construction jobs that pay as much as $47,000 a year in six weeks.
“We get them on the simulator right away,” D’Jock says. “The cool part about the simulators is they measure every action.”
That allows teachers and students to find problematic behaviors and eliminate them quickly, D’Jock says. This appeals to many of the students who are anxious to start on their careers—especially 2020 high school graduates, D’Jock says.
“Their whole world kind of exploded on them with COVID,” he says. “The world changed, and they want to go to work. They don’t want to wait anymore.”
The nonprofit’s first class of 2021 started March 12. Less than two weeks into the program, employers were showing up looking to recruit them, D’Jock says. Before the April 15 graduation, three of the four students were offered full-time jobs. The goal, D’Jock says, is for everyone to have a job offer within two weeks of graduation.
“Our whole program is really the result of collaboration from industry, WEDC, the Department of Workforce Development (DWD) and private foundations,” he says.
The program is called Softec because the program was designed to address what its founders thought were the two most important pieces of training for career success – soft skills such as communication and technical hands-on skills, D’Jock says.
The group used a WEDC grant from the We’re All Innovating Contest to pay for new software for the simulator, D’Jock says. Meanwhile, a $54,000 grant from the Sundance Family Foundation is paying tuition for some students, and a $108,200 Fast Forward grant from DWD will help fund other students.
Each SOFTEC class is made up of four students and two instructors. The small classes allow for lots of individual attention and a faster pace of learning.
“With SOFTEC, I can take this six-week class and have a great opportunity for employment by summer,” says Brandon Linder, 19, who was offered a job before his April 15 graduation. “The smaller classes are highly effective, and the hands-on training is great.”
The group is able to work with 12 students through the end of June, and some spots are still open, D’Jock says. For more information on taking part in the program or donating, call 715.688.9629 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.