Auburn Graduate Finds Path to Welding Career
COVID-19 brought one good thing to Mar’shawn Vaughn’s life: a perfect career fit.
Vaughn, a 2020 graduate of Auburn High School, participated in a pilot program last spring that allowed him to intern in the Rockford Public Schools’ Transportation Department. The goal of the pilot was to expose Vaughn to the variety of work maintaining the district’s 250 vehicles. The work ranges from auto body fabricating to repairing and rebuilding diesel engines on school buses.
The internship was just getting rolling when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Rather than introducing the variety of work the Transportation Department does, Vaughn’s internship was targeted to the basics of welding. Welding was something he was good at and had an interest in. “I’m not saying it’s easy, but it comes easy to me,” he said.
As a result, Vaughn – who was in Auburn’s Production Academy and transportation technology pathway – will enter a 16-week welding program at Rock Valley College in November. Jobs in the field are the stable, long-term positions he wants, commanding wages of $18 to $35 an hour.
Bill Fare, RPS 205 senior shop manager, had employability in mind when he broached the topic of high school students doing internships in his department. “What a way to expand on these students’ knowledge, actually working with a mechanic,” Fare said.
He sees a mechanic as a natural teacher; a jack of all trades who uses problem-solving and critical thinking regularly. Another bonus? At the end of the internship, the student could be job-ready: The department could make recommendations to local dealerships or service shops. Even a new mechanic could make $50,000 a year, according to Fare.
The internship also taught the soft skills of work – showing up on time, paying attention, communicating with coworkers and completing tasks.
Vaughn was eager to participate last year when his teacher, Jason Andrews, mentioned the internship opportunity in an advanced automotive class. “When we presented it to the class,” Andrews said, “he responded to it immediately. His hand shot up and he said, ‘Yeah, I want to do that.’ He took it and ran with it.”
His enthusiasm would only take him so far. Vaughn called himself a lost soul when he started the internship. But working closely with district mechanic Joe Zimmerman was a turning point – and not just because of the welding. He learned other things: “The way you talked. The way you carried yourself. He just taught me everyday life lessons, the way a real job would actually work,” Vaughn said. The impact on Vaughn was powerful. He told the Auburn staff the internship motivated him to come to school. He also discovered a passion that could translate into well-paying work. “It felt like easy money,” he said.
Bill Fare doesn’t intend to let the pandemic stand in the way of giving other students hands-on lessons. He would like to outfit district mechanics with body cameras and offer remote instruction that could be read by a narrator. (The shop is too loud to offer audio-enabled remote instruction.)
“This is my chance – and some of my staff’s chance – to really have a positive impact on our community,” Fare said.
Mary Kaull has worked in communications for the Rockford Public Schools since 2012. She has lived in near northwest Rockford for 30 years and has two adult children. In her spare time, she exercises, reads, cooks and contemplates her growing pile of craft materials. She is fostering her son's hunting dog, Seamus.
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