Ian Renner is pretty sure he'll work at BTD Manufacturing after high school.

Talking over the loud buzz of machinery inside the metals lab at Detroit Lakes High School on Monday and wearing a protective green overcoat and safety goggles, the senior said his two older brothers already work for BTD, and he plans to do the same.

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In-between drilling and assembling parts for a tugger cart project he and his classmates are working on, Renner explained how he's gaining real-world work experience while he's still in high school, before he even hits the BTD manufacturing floor.

"This gives us an idea of what we'd actually be doing as a welder," he said of the cart project. "Obviously we knew how to weld before, but now we've learned more about (the practical applications of) that."

Renner and about 20 other advanced welding students have been making tugger carts for BTD for the past three months or so. The carts are being made for the local manufacturing company as part of a longtime partnership between BTD and the school - one that both parties say is mutually beneficial.

The class has made a total of 34 specialized carts this year, which will be used at BTD's stamping facility.

Several representatives from BTD visited the metals lab Monday to learn more about the tugger cart project and watch the welding students in action. Josh "Bubba" Samuelson, a manufacturing engineer at BTD, spoke to the visiting group. He's been stopping by the school once or twice a week throughout the course of the cart project, bringing over materials (which are supplied by BTD), offering advice to students, and keeping tabs on their progress.

BTD and the school have partnered on smaller-scale projects similar to this one many times before, for the past 20-some years, Samuelson said, but this cart project is the biggest collaboration yet. He'd like to see partnerships like this continue - and projects continue to grow bigger - in future years.

"This was pretty unique," said Josh Heibel, the welding instructor at the school. He said the cart project has been good for the kids, giving them a taste of what real-world welding work looks like "and an idea of the quality requirements that are needed in the industry."

"It's something they can see from start to finish," said Samuelson. "It's good for the kids. It's something they can come over to BTD and actually see in use."

For BTD, the partnership helps create connections between the company and its potential future workforce, he added, and it ensures that those future workers start out with some training already under their belts. This particular project has also saved BTD about 68 hours of in-house welding work.

To make the tugger carts, the students started at the drawing board and worked their way to the finish line. They've been involved in every step of the assembly process, in a directly hands-on way. They've check dimensions, created custom fixtures, drilled, welded, attached wheels - they've done it all.

"It's just a lot of work," said Samuelson.

Aaron Lippert, the Director of Operations at BTD, said the kids started making some of the parts for the carts last year, but didn't start putting them together into a finished product until recently.

"It's awesome," Lippert said of the partnership. "It's nice to see kids getting that experience. They're actually in the real world right now."

He said the carts are ergonomically designed so their employees don't have to bend over so often, and they're foldable and attach to one another "like a train system." The carts will be used to hold stacks of containers, and workers can push them around the manufacturing floor. They decrease the need for the use of forklifts.

DLHS Principal Darren Wolf said partnerships like this one, between the school and local businesses, are a part of the school's goal to help kids explore their career interests and develop real-world work experiences before they graduate.

The school takes an Academy approach to education, steering students down their preferred career pathways - in this case, a manufacturing and production pathway. A School-To-Work program also ties in to the school's goal, connecting seniors to local internships and other career opportunities.

In addition to BTD, the school works with a long list of local companies, including Lakeshirts, TEAM Industries, Bell and Bremer Banks, Laker Prep Preschool and others.

"We want to make it where every senior gets some kind of real-world experience, where they can go out and find out what they might want to do in the future," said Wolf. "The goal of the Academy is to have them see how to apply these skills to the real world... We just want kids to make a good choice about what their future is going to be."