Nathan Feller has always loved working with his hands.

So in his four years at Verona Area High School, he took every opportunity to do just that, with shop, welding and auto maintenance classes among those he loved the most.

Feller will be among the 395 VAHS seniors walking across the stage at 1 p.m. Sunday, June 9, at Epic Systems to receive their diploma and graduate. And he’s part of about one-fifth of that class, based on statistics from recent years, who will pursue something other than a four-year degree.

Feller has an internship as a heavy equipment operator at a construction company in McFarland. There, and for the rest of his career in the construction industry, he’ll use the lessons he got from those shop classes: How to work both by himself and as part of a team.

“A lot of the shop classes you’re doing your own projects, you just find something to do and you just work on it,” Feller told the Press. “But also if you have a group project you have to coordinate with other people, and that’s kind of hard for me to do.

“It’s helped me a lot.”

With more than 30 courses in the technical education department, teacher Phill Smith wrote in an email it’s a growing area that can be valuable whether a student is going directly into the trades or going to a university.

“For some, technical education still suffers a stigma, a belief that technical education is a world of the shop classes of the 1950s or a program designed to hold students who struggle in other courses,” Smith wrote to the Press. “Nothing could be further from the truth; our technology education department focuses on exposing students to the world they will enter after high school.”

The department has also helped lead directly to full-time employment. Senior Isaac Sanderson spent this year as an apprentice with Findorff Construction working on the new high school building. This summer, he’ll start full time there.

“It’s crazy,” Sanderson said of graduation approaching. “It went fast.”

He had no idea about his interest in construction until finding out about the apprenticeship program, but now hopes to spend his career in the industry.

That’s something Smith said the department can take pride in.

“In today’s society, the skills gap is wider than ever, which means that what students learn in our technical education classes will give them a huge advantage over their peers,” he wrote. “With the shortage of skilled trades workers growing, that only creates more opportunities for our students who put their skills to use after high school.”

Senior Kadin McDermott, who will attend Madison College and begin an internship at the Verona Fire Department this summer, is excited to be done with school and be “able to do what I like to do” with more free time. But, he said, the technical education classes he had while here helped teach him how to “deal with other people” and made him a more “better rounded person.”

Smith said that’s one of the department’s goals, allowing students to learn “problem solving skills that can be applied in all areas of education or employment.”

“Our classes prepare students for their life after high school through hands on activities while they are still in high school,” he wrote. “Students in our courses learn course specific curriculum as well as life skills that they can apply to their future careers or their personal lives.”

Feller already knew he wanted those skills, and VAHS gave him the opportunity to learn them. Now, he gets to do the job he’s looked forward to for years.

“I’ve always done labor jobs,” Feller said. “I always wanted to do a physical, outside job. I’ve always liked the heavy equipment, so I get paid to basically play in a big sandbox all day.”

Contact Scott Girard at ungreporter@wcinet.com and follow him on Twitter @sgirard9.