As the graduation ceremony came to a close, MaCoy Reimer and his high school classmates stepped down from the stage, diplomas held high as they waved to their families in the crowd. They had been thinking about this moment for years, looking forward to their triumphant send-off with excitement and pride. In the back of their minds, however, these graduates were also grappling with questions of the future. MaCoy knew that once he left the gymnasium — once the celebrations ended and life resumed its normal course — he would need to begin forging a path of his own. In search of guidance, MaCoy turned to the person whose advice he valued most of all: his father, Jason Reimer.
As Jason tells it, MaCoy knew he wanted to work after high school, but he was less certain about what field he would enter. Jason, a Hormel Foods team member for 25 years, would have welcomed the chance to work with his son at the Dan’s Prize plant he manages, but he was enthusiastic when MaCoy expressed a different interest. “He wanted to try some kind of trade,” Jason says, “so he spent a summer working for a local gentleman doing plumbing and heating work. After that, MaCoy knew it was the right fit for him.
MaCoy’s summer apprenticeship is an example of what has long been the traditional path toward a career in the skilled trades. And while this model of on-the-job instruction still offers a viable entry into a meaningful and lucrative career, more and more Americans are pursuing trade degrees in order to gain an advantage as they enter the workforce. This is happening at the same time that other college subjects are struggling with shrinking enrollment, according to 2021 data. While overall enrollment declined, two-year programs for construction trades and technical mechanic work grew by 17.5% and 7%, respectively. This growth is largely driven by the increasing complexity of trade work.
Today’s Trades Require Technological Skills
This growth is largely driven by the increasing complexity of trade work. All traditional trades, from car mechanics to wind turbine maintenance, are becoming more technologically advanced. Modern workers need to understand entire bodies of knowledge that were not nearly as important a generation ago. For example, while MaCoy will still be expected to master the age-old fundamentals of plumbing, he will also need to be comfortable working with water recycling systems, computers and the other smart technologies that are now commonplace. Trade colleges offer students the chance to develop the full range of skills they’ll need to participate in today’s high-tech world.
But for all its benefits, college costs money. Tuition fees and related expenses can place families under financial strain, especially in trades where students are expected to supply their own tools. To help ease this burden and promote equality in education access, Hormel Inspired Pathways offers community college scholarships and college guidance to the children of Hormel Foods employees. Since 2021, the program has helped support over 1,100 students on their college journeys. Once program applicants fill out an online questionnaire, a member of the Pathways team guides them and their families through the next steps. The program is designed to accommodate all kinds of students, whether they are interested in entering trade school, community college or a four-year college
The program gets him such a good start on life. He’s bill-free right now, and after school he won’t have any debt. It doesn’t really sink in until you see the bill and know that it’s all paid. It’s just…I got chills right now.Jason Reimer
In addition to helping ease the financial concerns that college presents, the Inspired Pathways program is designed to guide students and parents through the application process which can be complex and challenging. “MaCoy is the first child I put through advanced schooling,” says Jason, who began work directly out of high school. “It’s new to me and I had a lot of questions, but then Pathways came along. Nate Lockett, the program director, does a great job of keeping you calm and giving good advice. He was very supportive.” Through his work at Dan’s Prize, Jason was familiar with the kinds of hard workers that have passed through the program. “I work with people who started their journey with Pathways, and I’ve never once had any of them come tell me that they can’t do something, that something is too complicated.”
Pride, Wisdom & Experience
MaCoy is currently studying plumbing and HVAC at Northwest Technical College in Bemidji, Minn. He and his father talk frequently, and Jason is grateful for the advantages that the program offers his son. “I think it teaches him to be a little sharper. The instructors have real-life experience, and I think there’s a benefit from spending time with them and hearing their stories.” In addition to teaching skills, trade colleges often provide students with a smooth entry into the workforce. “There’s already been quite a few companies that have visited the school looking to hire students,” Jason says.
Knowing that MaCoy’s financial obligations are covered has left Jason feeling like a weight has been lifted from his shoulders. “The program gets him such a good start on life. He’s bill-free right now, and after school he won’t have any debt. It doesn’t really sink in until you see the bill and know that it’s all paid. It’s just…I got chills right now.” The money they saved, thanks to the scholarship, allowed Jason and his wife, Kimberly Reimer, to buy a set of high-quality tools that will give MaCoy a head start as he begins his career. Jason is grateful for the support that Hormel Inspired Pathways has offered MaCoy and others like him. “Inspired Pathways is not just taking care of me,” he says, “but my family. They’re giving my son a good start on life, a really firm foothold. I’m thankful for it, and I’m proud to be a part of it.”
But even as formal education becomes a bigger part of a tradesman’s training, MaCoy and Jason both understand the importance of wise, honest guidance — the very thing that Jason has always sought to pass on to his son. The two spend lots of time together fishing or horseback riding and often, “anything outdoors,” Jason says. In the evenings they enjoy watching “The Office.” “He and I are extremely close. We have some really open conversations about everything, about life in general.”
This relationship has allowed MaCoy to internalize his father’s ideas about the importance of a strong work ethic. “I’ve always said that no matter what you do in life, there’s a couple things that you need to do really well,” Jason says. “One is, you should get to work early, work extremely hard and second, at the end of the day, ask yourself, what else can I do? It’s a mindset of wanting to do an excellent job, no matter what you’re doing, and I think MaCoy has that.”