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Keenan - Gateway Technical College

Keenan - Gateway Technical College

If he could rewrite history, Keenan Tolefree would have gone to trade school right out of high school. The reality is, the 2013 high school graduate entered the workforce after graduation, lured by wages that, at the time, seemed great. “When you're out of high school, it's cool to get a job and make 18, 19 bucks an hour, but then you're replaceable. You're not really in a secure position. There's 20 other assemblers that can do the same exact thing as you. ”

Eight years and three kids later (3 and 5-year-old boys and a girl on the way), Keenan doesn’t want to be replaceable anymore. He wants higher wages, job security, and he wants to do work that will make his kids proud. “I need something my kids can look up to them and say, ‘Hey, my dad does this, or my dad fixes those machines.’”

Keenan says he likes working with his hands, using power tools and getting dirty. With a background in electrical work, he’s drawn to robotics and automation. The question he couldn’t answer was, how to switch gears and get the schooling he needed to enter the advanced manufacturing field. Lucky for him, a family friend knew of Keenan’s work ethic, drive, and desires. “My sister's friend shot her a text and was like ‘Hey, I think this would be a good opportunity for your brother if he wants to take it on.’ My sister sent it to me and within 25 minutes I was registering and applying for it and reading up about it to see what it's all about.”

What he applied for is the Advanced Manufacturing Specialist certificate program at Gateway Technical College. One of 10 Metallica Scholars accepted into the program, Keenan had to quit a fulltime job to take part. He says in some ways it was hard to leave, “It’s a good company and they even threw me a pizza party and said I should let them know if I ever want to go back.”

But in looking to improve his job and income potential, he knows he’s taking the right steps. And his family knows so too. “Everyone's been super excited for me and my family, and they're all supporting me to just be better. My fiance completely agreed that we can make it for a few months while I’m going to school and my mom, she was so happy she actually started crying.”

Keenan is dedicated to making it through a challenging 14-week program and coming out with a brighter future. “My head is I'm going to have to do what I have to do to make it work and there's no quitting. I'm going to finish it and that's all that's in my head. I want this so I'm going to do it. That's what I'm going to follow through with.”

Keenan is one of the 10 Metallica Scholars in Gateway’s Advanced Manufacturing Specialist certificate program. The training prepares individuals for automation and controls technicians jobs.