Pilot Program Puts Tech Interns to Work in Columbiana County

LISBON, Ohio – Columbiana County Career and Technical Center prepared Gavin Whitman for a career in information technology while a state pilot program paved the path.

Whitman is one of nine 16- to 19-year-olds in the Columbiana County Educational Service Center high school tech internship pilot program through its Business Advisory Council. The council fosters cooperation among schools, businesses and the communities they serve.

The Ohio Governor’s Office of Workforce Transformation made Columbiana County School’s Business Advisory Council one of 12 such pilot programs around the state and only two in northeastern Ohio (the Auburn Vocational School District in Painesville is the other).

High school seniors or recent graduates are hired and employers receive reimbursement for their wages. Interns are placed in technology roles that focus on software, data, cloud, IT infrastructure and cybersecurity – performing duties similar to what would be expected in an entry-level position.

“The goal is, if the student can demonstrate that they have the necessary skills, it could lead to long-term employment,” says Jeremy Corbisello, director and assistant superintendent of CCCTC.

“The governor’s goal is to develop the workforce in our areas,” he says.

Students are paid at least $12 an hour, and work 15 hours a week for a minimum of 10 weeks, Corbisello says. Companies are reimbursed up to $1,200 for those ages 16 and 17 and $1,000 for those 18 or 19.

CCCTC technology director Ryan Rotuna says the state reimburses up to 150 hours for interns like Whitman, who will attend Kent State University at East Liverpool in the fall.

Whitman is obtaining real-world experience organizing equipment, rolling out new machines and assigning them to the high school and adult portions of the CCCTC campus.

Whitman’s duties will transition to more of a technical internship as he reimages machines to get them ready for the staff and students, and formats hard drives as the school prepares for in-person learning this fall.

“It’s an opportunity that I was willing to take and it’s turned out great so far,” he says about the program.

CCCTC trained Whitman in four certifications – hardware, software, networking and cloud computing – to prepare him for entry-level or intermediate IT employment.

“Gavin is a self-starter and had the technical skill and drive to get those jobs done,” Rotuna says.

Butech Bliss IT manager Nick Rohm remembers when he was growing up in Midland, Pa., and fixed a neighbor’s Commodore 64 computer. It intrigued the young boy and by the time he reached college, Rohm knew this was the career he wanted.

“IT is about solving problems and you have to be good at that in order to be good at IT,” he says. “Most of the time, that’s where your value adds, that you’re able to solve problems someone else can’t.”

IT jobs are available in Columbiana County, Corbisello says.

Manufacturing, education and medical fields are a few of the IT possibilities. CCCTC provides the credentials to kick start a student’s career.

“They can stay in the area, kind of like the Brain Gain,” says Anna Marie Vaughn, superintendent of the Columbiana County ESC, referring to The Business Journal’s advocacy program.

Butech Bliss is one of a handful of Columbiana County companies involved with the project. It hired Keaton Widlicka this summer as its intern.

Widlicka will study IT at Youngstown State University this fall, where he will have an advantage over other incoming freshmen.

“I don’t think anybody will have an internship like this,” he says.

Terminating and testing wires, and taking apart and troubleshooting computers are some of the hands-on experiences he is getting. The experiences and certifications prepare Widlicka and other interns to be productive employees.

“Those certifications are good. They expose you to a lot of knowledge that you can apply while you’re trying to work through some of these issues that you’ll have working in IT,” Rohm says.

The Butech Bliss IT manager formerly worked at bigger tech companies where his job was specialized. At Butech Bliss, he doesn’t have the luxury of focusing solely on being an email or network administrator, setting up firewalls, managing routers or being a security expert. Rohm does all of these things, something Widlicka experiences with Butech Bliss.

“That’s the beauty of working at a smaller, family-owned operation like this where you can have a chance to get exposed to all those things,” Rohm says. “If [there is] something you find interesting or want to pursue further, you can move on to a larger company and focus just solely on that.”

This is Whitman’s first job, getting him acclimated to an eight-hour workday – something that he admits is different from his schooling. He’s accustomed to working with others in a classroom setting but this is an independent environment.

“I think it’s going to help me on a different job that I know what to expect,” he says.

These opportunities indicate a shift in mindset by the area’s business advisory council, which is looking at science, technology, engineering and mathematics opportunities differently. Preparing students not just in CCCTC, but around Columbiana County is the ultimate goal.

“Sometimes acronyms scare people off,” says John Dilling, consultant to the Columbiana County ESC and retired Crestview Local Schools superintendent. “This is a little easier to get students engaged. I think that it’s growing. We’ve got more schools that are interested in being a partner with us as we move forward. We provide a lot more opportunities for students. As technology evolves, we try to evolve with it.”

Columbiana Exempted Village School Superintendent Don Mook says it’s imperative that his district take advantage of these talented students. He points out that similar training at the collegiate level would pile up student debt.

For Whitman, it started with a good foundation.

Writing resumes and cover letters was part of his senior capstone project at CCCTC. He graduated with a portfolio showing his certifications, his membership in the National Technical Honors Society, and it made him more desirable to employers.

Pictured: After graduating from Columbiana County Career and Technical Center, Gavin Whitman was hired by CCCTC Director of Technology Ryan Rotuna through the Columbiana County Educational Service Center IT tech intern pilot program.