Tools for Schools Helps Youth Learn Needed Skills

Tools for Schools fosters a connection between Chicago area mold shops and high school students who need the right tools to learn the right skills for advanced manufacturing careers.

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Sean Soelter, a retired moldmaker and former owner of V and S Tool Co., spoke to members of the American Mold Builders Association’s Chicago Chapter at its recent dinner meeting to ask them to support his efforts to provide high school metalworking programs with much needed items via the chapter’s Tools for Schools program.

Soelter told the audience that from the beginning, when he started his company, it was important to him and his then partner to give back and help the high schools and their metalworking programs. He also made mention of an article that appeared in one of the first issues of MoldMaking Technology 20 years ago, spearheaded by MMT’s Editorial Director Christina Fuges, and focusing on women in the trade. Soelter’s wife, Vickie, is among the rare women who worked in moldmaking then. “Those are our two passions,” Soelter said. “Promoting metalworking and women in the trade.”

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Soelter went from helping two school district advisory boards to working with six after selling the assets of his shop and retiring just over a year ago. “There’s more need out there,” he said. Working with 12 teachers from the six districts, Soelter says he wants to help get the AMBA and its members in front of the future metalworkers, and he urged his moldmaking audience to get involved by sitting on curriculum advisory boards and participating at career fairs in the districts he works with, representing the AMBA and our trade as a viable career opportunity. “It isn’t as big a commitment as you might think. Time spent at meetings is probably an hour or two four times a year,” he said. “But you can make a big impact. In return you get first crack at the apprentices who are graduating from the programs you support.”

“I’m also here to talk to you about donations,” Soelter added. “If a metalworking teacher is in class and they need a cutter, they call me and I get it for them. There’s no red tape, or school paperwork.” He stressed how desperate the need is for “the smaller things.” “There isn’t one grant available this year that is for perishable tools. It’s all well and good that we get a new CNC machine or a Bridgeport. One school received a brand new lathe recently. They’re all plugged in and ready to go, but they aren’t running. I asked why and the teacher told me they don’t have any materials,” he says. Having attended a recent AMBA Chicago Education Committee meeting, Soelter knows the great work the chapter is doing, working with junior high and high schools in the region.

“What I’m asking from you tonight is your help. You all have vendors that you buy from. When you order end mills from a vendor, buy an extra one or two. When you order steel, order an extra piece, or ask for a donation. Call me and I’ll come and get it.” He said that just in the past week he picked up and delivered more than $9,000 worth of items to the schools. “They need this stuff badly. It doesn’t take much to fill a need. I just got a request from one school in need of 150 pairs of safety glasses. They are a dollar apiece.” Drills, taps and end mills are among the most needed items on the list Soelter maintains.

For those in the Chicago area who would like to help Sean Soelter or learn more, you can reach him via email at vstool@sbcglobal.net. You can also contact the Chicago AMBA for information about the chapter’s Tools for Schools program. 

For those outside of the Chicago area, I hope that this inspires you to take action as Sean has. It can be very rewarding working with your local school districts, and, as Sean pointed out, tapping into the fresh, young talent once they are hooked on this wonderful trade of ours.

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