Olathe schools, Garmin forge new program to train future techs, college grads with no student debt

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OLATHE, Kan. -- One local school system says its helping build a pipeline of hirable talent.

Educators with the Olathe School District said they've established a new arrangement with Garmin, and it could land jobs for new graduates.

Workforce vacancies will come in the not-so-distant future. The Olathe School District has a plan to fill them. Beginning with this school year, 11th and 12th grade students involved in the district's Career and Technical Education program can get advanced training as electronic techs.

Garmin, the Olathe-based tech giant, then give students the opportunity to become employees using that training. That training will be focused on aviation electronics and installing GPS based systems in airplanes.

An Olathe School District spokesperson said Garmin donated thousands of dollars in equipment to the school system, enabling the district to build a laboratory where students will use the same gear Garmin uses. Garmin hopes to use these incoming employees to succeed a large group of employees who are expected to retire soon.

"Garmin has told us in the next five years, they'll be losing 50% of their workforce, especially in this area of these electronic technicians," Dr. Jessica Dain, an assistant superintendent with Olathe Schools, said.

Dain said students will serve as job shadows and interns while they complete the training. Upon graduation from high school, Dain said those students will move on to Johnson County Community College, where each student will carry as many as 22 credit hours applicable to their associates' degree.

That certification will make each student eligible to accept full-time work at Garmin. A Garmin spokesperson said students will be reimbursed for their college tuition, enabling them to begin their professional life with no education-based debt.

"We`re looking at market value assets. What are those things that our students can graduate with that can really set them ahead to ensure they`re successful," Dain said.

"It`s a win-win for everybody," Jennifer Pozzuolo, a spokesperson for Garmin, said. "We're struggling to find that skill set and technical knowledge. Rather than just swapping boards, so we thought where better to invest than our own community. Why not keep it in Kansas City? We'd love to have it here."

Dain said so far, 24 students are enrolled in this program for the coming year. She said those spots went quickly, perhaps because the benefits and potential for employment are so strong.

A Garmin representative said not all of those 24 students will be hired by the company, but those who are hired will see starting salaries in the $40,000 range. Pozzuolo said Garmin is also in talks with other local school districts about introducing the program outside Olathe.

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