Private Trade Schools Hustle to Meet Demand

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – With companies in desperate need of a qualified workforce, students at local trade schools are a hot commodity. Across the area, students in nearly all fields – from skilled trades to cosmetology and beyond – have many opportunities waiting when they graduate.

“The jobs are aplenty right now and the skilled trades are seeking people with the right skills. We’d like to see more students apply because there are more jobs out there than we’re able to fill,” says Diane Marsteller, director of admissions at ETI Technical College. “We only offer a handful of programs and they all tend to be in-demand.”

The trade school in Niles offers five diploma programs – welding and fitting, facilities maintenance, practical nursing, medical assistant, and business. It also offers four degrees: business, legal assistant, legal assistant with a focus on criminal corrections, and medical assistant.

The newest addition is an associate degree in nursing, Marsteller says. Even though that program hasn’t had a class graduate yet – the fourth cohort began classes Sept. 13 – it’s been popular because it can be completed in 20 months.

“For nursing, because we’ve had the LPN program for such a long time, there’s always been demand. Companies want to talk to our students because there’s such a huge need,” she says. “Our placement has always been strong in the LPN program. We haven’t graduated anyone from the RN program. But we expect that to see more [interest from employers].”

It’s a similar story at Laurel Technical Institute, which has campuses in Hermitage, Meadville and Uniontown, Pa., as well as in Morgantown, W.Va., and online courses. The school offers 27 programs in health care, the skilled trades, cosmetology, culinary arts, business and IT across its sites.

“Most of our employers are saying, ‘Send us people,’” says Cori Cowan, LTI’s digital-marketing specialist. “We have a steady flow for most of our programs. There aren’t any specific ones that are necessarily down in leads for enrollment right now. … This fall semester is shaping up pretty well for all our programs.”

But getting students enrolled is one thing. Getting them ready for the jobs that await them is another entirely. The private trade schools take pride in the quality of the education they offer and tout their ability to get students into the field quickly. The associate’s degree in nursing at ETI, for example, can be completed in 20 months.

“Our programs are more extensive. They take longer to complete and cover more aspects. In our facilities maintenance, for example, we cover electrical, HVAC, construction skills,” says ETI’s Marsteller. “There are so many aspects folded into one program. And when they graduate, they get a diploma, not just a certificate of completion.”

To deliver a quality education, the Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics requires all instructors to have had a full-time job in the aviation industry. The school, which has a campus at the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport, follows a curriculum set by the Federal Aviation Administration and stays in touch with airlines – whom graduates will eventually work for – to ensure that what’s being taught keeps up with real-world needs.

“We make sure the feedback employers give is coming to not only campus management and career services, but also to campus faculty to make sure they understand exactly what employers are looking for,” says Joseph DeRamo, director of PIA’s campus here. “[Instructors] tend to have a good idea of what the companies are looking for. But technology and aircraft and business trends change.”

While students get hands-on experience working on engines and electronics thanks to a small fleet of planes housed at the airport campus, one of the valuable skills the Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics works to impart is the ability to troubleshoot, DeRamo says.

“I can’t have every kind of aircraft parked at the Youngstown airport for students to work on. We try to make sure that they have the basics and fundamentals of what they need to know in the industry,” he says. “We don’t teach them anything about forklifts. But if a student has the manual for a forklift and their tools, they should be able to fix it because they know about electronics, engines and how to read the technical manual.”

For these students, too, the job market is wide open. Last year as the coronavirus began to spread and air travel slowed, DeRamo says, the airlines began to look at their financials and offered older employees buyouts in an effort to limit costs. Combined with the pre-pandemic demand for mechanics, the industry is looking to fill thousands of jobs.

“We need more students. Airlines are constantly calling and saying that they need more,” DeRamo says. “The skillsets in demand are very wide. I hear everything from students working on tires and brakes all the way to painting the aircraft. I have a need for students setting up the Wi-Fi networks inside planes to the programming and instrumentation needed to fly aircraft.”

At all three schools, offices of career services help students to connect with employers and find jobs for after graduation. As part of the curriculum, Laurel Tech has students take a course in career development when they near graduation. It covers topics such as soft skills, resume writing and more.

“We put a lot of effort into making sure our graduates have enough assistance coming out of their program and getting placed,” Cowan says. “Fortunately enough, a lot of our students do internships and end up getting hired. Some of our cosmetology students we see starting their own salons and growing.”

At Laurel Tech’s campuses – especially at Meadville and Hermitage –- there’s a good deal of activity in the business courses, which students combine with their other courses to start their own companies. Cowan points to one alumna who started her own salon after graduating and now has multiple sites across Morgantown.

“A lot of students can come out of that prepared to start their own company. They have all the tools upon graduation to build a business plan, put together models and develop the idea,” she says. “That all starts within our walls and they can expand after graduation.”

Pictured: ETI Technical College in Niles.