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BEEP. BEEP. BEEP. Affectionately named Big Bertha, a large orange forklift makes its way to students sectioning off a parking lot with traffic cones, just outside of the Manteca Education & Training Center (METC).

Prepared for a hands-on lesson, the students circle the forklift with Vernon “Rocky” Heckel, Forklift Safety Instructor at METC. They inspect the vehicle together, carefully running through a safety checklist. It’s not everyday that students get to learn how to use heavy machinery, but at Manteca Unified a new opportunity is emerging.

Zachary Franceschetti, a Resource Specialist at East Union High School has gone above and beyond to help students break through barriers.

“This year I have a lot of students that don’t have the luxury of enrolling in college or a trade school after they graduate, they need to obtain jobs to either help their families financially or they need to be able to support themselves,” shared Mr. Franceschetti. “When we discussed careers or jobs they wanted to pursue, they would consistently tell me that they planned to work at fast food restaurants or in retail.

Mr. Zach Franceschetti

“I wanted to give them some other options.”

- Mr. Franceschetti

Seeking out more opportunities for his students, Mr. Franceschetti met with Javier Lora, the Plant Manager at Kraft Heinz in Escalon to create a plan to prepare students for employment at the plant. During their meeting, Lora revealed that forklift operator positions are consistently understaffed, but students would need to be certified to apply for such positions.

This revelation sparked a new, exciting opportunity for his students! The team at Manteca Education & Training Center (METC) created a program that would not only train students (18 years or older) in 3-4 days but make them feel confident to enter the workforce.

“Not everybody is college bound, and I think a great alternative is to have a program where students can go into a trade and do really well and make good money,” stated Mr. Heckel. “The goal for me is to make sure that we have a good, qualified candidate going into the workforce.”

This year, 13 students received a forklift certification!

“Students have been extremely excited about this opportunity. Graduating from high school can be very scary for some kids, especially if they are uncertain about their future. I think this program has helped ease their anxiety,” said Mr. Franceschetti.


Hoping to bring this opportunity district-wide, Mr. Franceschetti has met with teachers and administrators at MUSD high schools who are very eager to offer this program to their students. He has also received more support from local businesses in addition to Kraft Heinz including US Cold Storage and Eckert, all passionate about helping students and positively impacting our community.

  • East Union
  • METC
  • MUSD