Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of stories derived from Rising Rust Belt: A Regional Revitalization Economic Summit, which was held Oct. 7 and presented by the Shenango Valley, Youngstown-Warren and Lawrence County chambers of commerce.
Len Rich snickered at parents who seem to spend half their lives driving their kids to and from athletic practices, coaching sessions and tournaments in hopes that their children will be able to snag athletic scholarships to colleges or universities.
“We don’t need to teach our kids how to throw balls and swing bats to get a scholarship,” said Rich, administrator of the Lawrence County Career and Technical School New Castle. “All you need is to walk down to your local union hall.”
There are more than 3 million skilled trades jobs open in the United States, and thousands more are opening each year because of retirements, Rich said. The demand for welders, electricians, carpenters, machinists and plumbers; managers; and people who can train the next generation of skilled trades workers is resulting in good wages and benefits for those qualified to do the work, panelists said.
When you look at the crisis of student debt for college graduates, parents, school guidance counselors and others with a say in how the nation’s young people decide career options should talk more about the skilled trades, said Tony DiTommaso, president of Carpenters
Local 171, Youngstown, and secretary and treasurer of Western Reserve Building Trades.
Most apprenticeships cost nothing to the apprentice, said Jonathan Bruce, chief operating officer of Bruce & Merrilees Electric Co., New Castle. Apprentices are paid while they learn – the Pennsylvania average is nearly $16 an hour for the first year – and the average apprenticeship lasts five years, he said.
Technical schools are doing a good job preparing students for entry level positions, but have to do a better job preparing students for what they need to do to make a career out of their area of interest, DiTommaso said, noting there are 2,200 carpentry apprentices, 1,200 of them in northeast Ohio.
It is up to the industry to try to reach young people – DiTomasso said as early as the seventh and eighth grades – and dispel the notions of the “dirty job”; that travel is required; and that a college degree is the only way to go, panelists said.
“We need an image reboot,” Bruce said.
“There aren’t a lot of shows on television about being a machinist,” Rich said.