United Local Wood Shop Offers ‘Foot in the Door’ for Apprenticeships

YOUNSGTOWN, Ohio – Brielle Rose and Trent Newburn are excited to be part of the first class for the new building trades program at United High School in Hanover Township. Not just for what they will learn. But for what it could mean for their futures.

Starting next school year, United will offer Building Trades 1 and 2, the result of a partnership with the Indiana Kentucky Ohio Regional Council of Carpenters, The Builders Association of Eastern Ohio and Western Pennsylvania and the Educational Service Center of Eastern Ohio. Students who complete the two-year certified pre-apprenticeship program will earn industry-recognized credentials and are eligible to enter apprenticeship programs with the carpenters union, as well as five other trade unions.

For Newburn, a sophomore who aspires to work in carpentry or construction, the class will put him on the path to a career when he graduates. He’s already had some experience working on a farm and doing some construction over the summer, he says, and the class is expanding that knowledge by giving him experiences with new equipment.

“It feels great knowing that I live 10 to 15 minutes from here and having something this close to being able to learn skills,” Newburn says. “I should be able to learn a whole lot of new skills I may not have learned [otherwise], and hopefully, [I can] use them in my next step in life.”

And while Rose, a junior, doesn’t plan to enter the construction trades after high school – she aspires to be a teacher – having the skills she’ll gain from Building Trades 1 will come in handy down the road.

“I just figured there’s a lot of things that people could learn from trades and woodshop that are useful,” Rose says. “Even though I’m not going into that field, I think it’s just great stuff to know that everybody should know.”

Growing up on a farm, Rose is familiar with some of the things she’s learning in the woodshop class she takes at United. Building trades classes will increase that knowledge, she says, and offer her a Plan B if she changes her mind about her career.

“If teaching doesn’t work out or something happens with that, then I always have the credential that I need if I want to go into trades or something like that,” she says.

United has always offered four levels of woodshop. But for the next school year, it will be one of 10 school districts to offer the new building trades classes.

Typically, when a new program rolls out, students will wait to see how it goes and if their friends take part, says the United principal, William Young. Enrollment for the building trades courses has been “phenomenal,” he says, with 30 students signed up

“It’s a significant increase over what we would have at that level: Woods 3 and Woods 4,” Young says. “They are seeing this as something that will take them down the road.”

Woodshop 1 and 2 will still be offered for freshmen and sophomores, giving them basic skills before they enter the pre-apprenticeship program, he says.

While the building trades program focuses on carpentry skills, the curriculum is broader than just woodshop. Students will gain insight into plumbing, working with sheet metal, pipefitting, bricklaying, concrete and electrical, he says, and learn the foundational skills that employers look for in their apprentices.

“They’re going to have their foot right in the door to the apprenticeship program,” Young says.

The Building Trades 1 and 2 curriculum will be much more intense than typical woodshop, says Rebecca Zeisler, woodshop/construction teacher at United. Whereas woodshop taught students how to use individual tools, building trades will teach the students how a particular tool is used in a real-world setting.

“I can show them a specific skill that they would need those tools for if they were going to go into the workforce,” Zeisler says.

During the first few weeks, classes will focus on safety. After that, Zeisler will set up stations where students learn to identify tools, then practice using that tool.

“They’re in the shop pretty much right off the bat,” she says.

Projects will start small as they normally do, such as paper towel holders and cutting boards.

“Most of these students have never touched tools. You have to start small because they need to build up those basic skills,” Zeisler  says.

By the end of the class, students will be building a full-sized garden shed and doing framing for a wall so they can get experience with building a structure.

The biggest change in the curriculum is imposing deadlines on work, she says. Woodshop classes can typically be lackadaisical with setting deadlines. But building trades students will be expected to complete their projects in a set amount of time.

“I’m structuring it that way so they feel like they’re on a job site where there would be a deadline and someone expecting you to get that particular job done for that day,” she says.

This year, United approached sophomores with plans for the program. Already, Zeisler says, she’s noticing a difference in their demeanor and seriousness for the program.

Typically, students take woodshop because they have an empty space in their schedules or don’t want to take a study hall, she says. But that doesn’t give them anything they can put on a resume.

“Now that they know this construction program is here, and that can lead right into a job, a lot of them are actually getting serious about wanting to take it and thinking about what they want to do after high school,” she says.

That’s a big deal for United, which is in a rural area, adds Young, who recalls when potteries and steel mills were still prominent in the area.

With those career pathways gone, students can’t always connect what they’re learning in school to jobs they can see.

“For the longest time, we’ve been focused on preparing kids for college. And everything else is just kind of left to the students to figure out,” Young says. “This is giving them something tangible that they can see.”

The program also provides opportunities for employers to come into the classrooms to talk with the students, offer career advice and possibly recruit them, says Robert Eggleston, lead career counselor at the ESC of Eastern Ohio.

The ESC received a $150,000 grant through the Ohio Department of Education’s RemotEDx initiative to help to fund the program at member districts.

Eggleston says he expects more schools to jump on board with the program. While United is one of a few with a functioning woodshop, many will be starting from scratch, he says.

Given the rising cost of materials, particularly lumber, Eggleston is asking anyone who has tools or materials they can part with to consider donating them to the program.

Additionally, anyone with experience who would be willing to serve as a guest instructor is encouraged to volunteer their time.

Donors or volunteers can contact Eggleston at r.eggleston@mvrcog.org.

Pictured: Rebecca Zeisler, the woodshop/construction teacher at United High School, demonstrates how to use a table saw.