(COLORADO SPRINGS) — Widefield School District 3 (WSD3) hosted a community conversation on Thursday evening, Jan. 26 to discuss the positive impact of industry and education partnerships on Colorado’s workforce.

“It’s really a perfect time for people who don’t know what goes on here that just have heard about the MiLL to tune in and see what is going on, what is, what are our goals,” said WSD3 Superintendent, Kevin Duren. “And, you know, what we were looking to accomplish and how do we build this together to really make sure that five years from now, ten years from now, the MiLL is still working strong. We still have partnerships and we have even a stronger vision of what this is going to look like in the future.”

The Manufacturing Industry Learning Lab (MiLL) in WSD3 received a $12,500 donation from the International Woodworking Fair (IWF) to help students in trade programs.

“So the donations, their resources, their experience, their guidance is really something that we have to continue to work with them with so that we have all of our students working on the right track,” Duren said.

The MiLL offers trade career pathways for students who can receive hands-on experience using manufacturing equipment and Computer Numerical Controlled (CNC) machines.

Widefield High School senior, John Francis, began taking courses at the MiLL starting in his freshman year. Now as a senior, he said he comes here two times a day.

“I really enjoy working with the teachers, the students,” Francis said. “I get lucky to be able to work with both Mesa and Widefield kids. So just that interaction, also building a house, seeing your progress is also amazing.”

Students can take trade career pathways at the MiLL in Cabinet Manufacturing, Construction Technology, and Welding Technology.

“It’s very hands-on, you’re constantly working with your hands, you’re cutting wood, you’re screwing in boards, you’re measuring things,” Francis said. “Like everything is hands-on and that’s something I really enjoy about the program.”

One of the projects found on a table inside of the MiLL

Students who are in Cabinet Manufacturing and Welding Technology can take internships with Colorado businesses. Students in Cabinet Manufacturing are tasked with producing cabinets needed for the Careers in Construction (CICC) home build project.

Francis said his favorite project to work on is building the house that is at the MiLL.

“Oh, at the beginning of it, it was a complete mess, but it was nothing to do with like anything with the teachers or anything like that,” Francis said. “It was just, we had a lot of problems with the floor blocking and stuff like that. The spacing kept getting all messed up and that was just a mess. But once we got through it and once we got over the blocking and stuff like that, it was just smooth sailing from there.”

After students complete two years of Cabinet Manufacturing classes they have the chance to earn an industry-recognized certification called the Woodwork Career Alliance (WCA) certificate.

“I mean, it’s an economy booster for us to provide a workforce and the training,” Duren said. “As soon as we can get students… trained, the better off they’re going to be to enter into a world, knowing exactly what they can do and their value in the world.”

Dr. Tatiana Bailey spoke on Thursday evening about the economy at the MiLL

Dr. Tatiana Bailey, an economist with Data-Driven Economic Strategies, spoke at the event and shared insight about labor shortages in the United States.

The MiLL is able to give students the tools and skillset to be prepared for the future.

“And even if they don’t want to do this long term, as for a career, they really get the confidence to be able to say, ‘You know what? If I really put my mind to something, I can do it and I can learn these skill sets,'” Duren said. “And if they do want to expand that into the workforce, then they have that same competence and confidence to say, ‘I have the training, I have the certifications, I have all of those skill sets already intact and I’m ready to go to work.'”

Thanks to the MiLL, Francis said that he “would love to go into the construction field.”