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MTI supplies welder demand

Mitchell Technical Institute graduate Harvey “Jay” Herman Jr. poses for a photo on Thursday afternoon at the MTI welding lab in Mitchell. (Sean Ryan/The Daily Republic)1 / 2
South Dakota Lt. Gov. Matt Michels delivers the commencement address to Mitchell Technical Institute's 2014 graduating class Friday at the Corn Palace in Mitchell. (Sean Ryan/The Daily Republic)2 / 2

Harvey "Jay" Herman Jr. is exactly the type of student Mitchell Technical Institute hopes to educate and graduate with a degree.

An American Indian from the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, Herman has taken the long route to an MTI degree, which he happily accepted during Friday night's graduation ceremony at the Corn Palace. He was one of 492 students to graduate from the school this year.

He's 40 years old and has already had a career as an ironworker, traveling from city to city across the country, usually a few years at a time. But three years ago, Herman saw an advertisement for MTI on TV and thought he might want to get a degree.

"I guess you would call me a non-traditional student," he laughed.

A Mission native, Herman is one of five students who will go from graduation to full-time work with Trail King. He's already been working part-time for Trail King, at about 25 hours a week, since he started school in 2012.

"I just have always taken a lot pride in working with my hands," he said. "I love that idea of perfecting something and just using your skills to make something from scratch."

Along with Herman, eight other students graduated from the school's associate of applied science program in the Welding and Manufacturing Technology program, the first time that degree has been awarded. Ten more students completed a one-year program for a diploma. The program is almost at capacity now, making use of its new welding lab in the campus' Trades Center, and the school expects nearly 40 students to be enrolled again next year.

That's music to the ears of Bruce Yakley, the president and CEO of Trail King in Mitchell.

"To me, they are Trail King's future. I'm serious about that," said Yakley. "We're going to be counting on those students big time."

Yakley said it commonly costs his company $10,000 to train new customers and bring them up to speed to work at Trail King. He said he might as well put that money toward students who are learning their skills at MTI, and then recruit from there. He hopes to bring in 20 trained students each year to work at Trail King's Mitchell plant and its other location in West Fargo, N.D., and has a full-time recruiter to show the industry's benefits to high schoolers.

Yakley credited MTI president Greg Von Wald and welding instructor Travis Peterson for recognizing the need for more skilled employees for manufacturing.

"They just get it," he said. "This is such a good state and region, and we want to make the most of it by training its hard workers."

MTI's students built a trailer this year that will be used by the school, thanks to materials donated by Trail King. In the future, the students will build the trailer, which will then be sold by Trail King, and the proceeds will go back to the program, something Yakley said can net as much as $25,000 per year.

Herman has been a beneficiary of Trail King's program that pays $8,000 over two years to help cover the costs of school. Starting Monday, he will spend the next two years at Trail King as part of his financial assistance package with the manufacturer and has the opportunity to earn additional bonuses if he stays longer. Twin City Fan and Horizontal Machining Inc., of Huron, also participate in similar programs with MTI.

Herman said he's had a hard time not referring to his peers in the program as kids. But there is an age difference of more than two decades between him and the youngest students.

"He's a great guy. He works tremendously hard and he's a great mentor for all of the students," said MTI welding instructor Gregg Thibodeau. "These kids really get such a great experience and can really get such a great leg up for starting their careers."

Herman said he can't stress enough what a great opportunity the program is for young people.

"It means a lot to really feel wanted," he said. "There's a lot of really great opportunities out there for us and to make use of our skills is just great."

Herman said he's felt the demand, as employers are always circling MTI to pluck a skilled worker. About seven or eight students, Herman said, won't return to MTI after their first of two years in the program because they have a job in hand. Students who finish the two-year program, like Herman, will receive their degree.

Herman's future is set. He's ready to settle down and take care of his three children. And he won't rule out trying to work on a bachelor's degree, either, if possible.

"I love my job," Herman said. "I'm looking forward to just working."

Michels pitches public service

South Dakota Lt. Gov. Matt Michels was MTI's commencement address speaker Friday at the Corn Palace, and spoke of the importance of public service for citizens, no matter the level or degree.

"Everyone is a product of someone else's service," he told the capacity crowd. "We're all made possible by a community of passionate people."

Michels said the history of America has been built on self-governance and service, whether it's on a community board or faith-based level.

"It's not you or me, Michels said. "It's us. It's 'we the people.' We are responsible for tending that well to make sure there's water for the next generations."

MTI graduation facts:

• 492 students graduating from 31 programs.

• 339 students will graduate with associate of applied science degrees.

• This is the first class to receive AAS degrees in Farm Power Technology and Welding and Manufacturing Technology.

• Of the 492 graduates, 425 graduates are from South Dakota, calling 144 different communities as home. Fifty-nine students are from Mitchell, 10 apiece are from Parkston and Alexandria. Mount Vernon and Lake Andes each have six graduates.

• Eleven states are represented with graduates outside South Dakota: Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada and Wyoming.

-- Source: Mitchell Technical Institute