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Jacob Grove was still a senior at South Western High School when he began preparing for his future in the workforce.

About two years ago, the now-19-year-old started a job-shadowing program at Hanover-based KLK Welding. He's now a student in the first class for future welders offered through a partnership between the school and the company at 15 Barnhart Drive.

"It really suits everybody's needs," said Grove, a 2014 high school graduate. It's "really individualized."

KLK School of Welding & Theory opened a few months ago to meet the need for welders in York County's manufacturing plants, said Ken Kirkpatrick, president of KLK Welding.

"I've got companies in York calling asking what kind of students I can send them," he said. "Because there is such a demand."

Tour: On Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Scott Perry, R-York County, and state Reps. Kate Klunk, R-Hanover, and Seth Grove, R-Dover Township, toured KLK and South Western High School's metal lab, which partners with KLK to teach students about welding.

Most of the school's 12 students are high school graduates, but one is a junior at South Western, said Kirkpatrick, who has been a welder since 1980.

There was such an interest in attending that Kirkpatrick had to turn some potential students away because of class-size constraints.

Instructors customize curriculum to meet each students' needs, from someone just picking up a welding torch to more advanced welders. Since the school includes a working welding shop, the students get on-the-job experience, something that looks good on a résumé when they're entering the workforce, Kirkpatrick said, adding that all but six of the current students are employed.

The academy also works with local manufacturers to place the students in jobs, he said.

Perry said he's impressed with hands-on experience students receive.

"This is a heck of a skill," he said. "Getting your hands on this is a whole different world."

The school: The 16-week course is held two nights a week in South Western's metal lab and costs $1,100 per semester, including textbooks.

That's a far cry from the tens of thousands of dollars students at a four-year college or university pay for an education, Kirkpatrick noted.

"Not everybody has to be college bound," he said. "That blue collar stigma has to go away. It's not all dirty jobs."

Kirkpatrick said the academy is working to gain accreditation, as well as 501(c)3 status through the IRS.

KLK has a Spring Garden Township facility where it trains students to work at the nearby Harley-Davidson plant, he said.

Rep. Grove, who leads the House Education Committee's subcommittee on technical education and career readiness, said the academy and its partnerships are a revolutionary idea.

"I think it's a clear example of how we need career and technical welders," he said. "All these jobs in non-college-oriented fields are really driving our economy."

At South Western: During a stop at South Western's metal lab, the lawmakers were shown how the district is teaching high school-aged students welding and other career-based skills.

District tech ed teacher Bruce Lee said students last year were tasked with creating metal benches for a business and a church.

Students teamed up with other local businesses that powder-coated the metal and made cement slabs for the benches, Lee said.

"It's like a little life lesson," Klunk said. "Like you're a running a mini business."

With the welding school off to a good start and a need for welders, Kirkpatrick's wife, Rose Kirkpatrick, said they are looking to increase class sizes to get more students into the program.

"We need a program like this in the area," Rose Kirkpatrick, who is also director of KLK, said. "There's so much manufacturing."

— Reach Greg Gross at ggross@yorkdispatch.com.

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