Students from several area schools gathered around for a lesson, but this wasn’t your typical classroom. As machines whirred and hammers pounded in the background, high school students watched employees of Glassman Corp. run a machine to cut sheet metal and form the metal sheets into HVAC ducts.

The Hays-based company hosted its second annual skilled trades technology day Tuesday for high school juniors and seniors and students from North Central Kansas Technical College. The initiative was started as a way to give students a real-world look at several vocational career possibilities, said Dave Schoendaller, senior project manager at Glassman Corp., 900 Commerce Parkway.

“Everybody has to know that all kids are not ready to go to a four-year college,” said Schoendaller, who came up with the idea last year. “They want to do their thing and move on, and we’re trying to let them know that it’s out here. I think right now there’s 25,000 jobs nationwide open in our industry, and it’s expected to go to 100,000.”

Skilled trades professionals also could see more workforce needs in the future, as studies indicate a number of trained professionals are approaching retirement, and there aren’t enough younger professionals to take their place, said Danielle Lang, human resource specialist with Glassman Corp.

Nearly 70 students attended the event, which was broken into six learning stations giving students a glimpse of current technology and offering an opportunity to hear about job opportunities and ask questions.

Several employees with Glassman Corp. led the students through demonstrations and activities, with several other Kansas companies also present for the occasion. Several of Glassman Corp.’s vendors jumped at the opportunity to be part of the event, Schoendaller said, noting part of the purpose is to help break any possible negative stereotypes surrounding skilled trades.

“It’s a whole different world. We’re just trying to show them opportunities that are available in this field,” he said. “And as being one of the larger employers here in this area … our campus is very state of the art. So we’re trying to open it up to the kids and let them know what there is here.”

Students learned about threading pipes, forming HVAC ductwork and even were invited to try moving dirt with a skid-steer loader.

One of the students from Hays High School participating in the day’s activities happened to be Schoendaller’s son, Kelby, who said he is planning to pursue a vocational trade after high school.

“I already had a lot of background knowledge, but I have learned some more about the newer technology that’s been coming out, because every day they create new stuff,” Kelby Schoendaller said. “I’m planning on welding. But if not welding, either electrical or HVAC. I don’t like to sit at a desk behind a computer. I like to work with my hands.”

Students traveled from as far as Hoisington, Dighton and the Chase/Raymond school district. Approximately 20 schools were invited, and organizers are hoping to increase attendance next year.

Chris Dinkel, who teaches industrial technology classes at HHS, said he also would like to see more local students attend the event.

“One thing we all have in common is we’re going to have to work, (no matter) where we choose to go,” he said. “And if we can help kids make good decisions early on an education or career where they can get out to the workforce and be a trained technician, that’s rewarding for all of us.”