NILES, Ohio – The smell of fresh sawdust and the sound of pounding nails used to be a staple in many high schools in the area.
Now Trumbull County students without the opportunity to learn carpentry will again have the opportunity at the Education Extension Pre-Apprenticeship Program.
“We’re really excited to be able to equip more students with the employability skills, math skills and project-based skills that they are going to need to enter the workforce after they graduate,” says James Rook, curriculum/instruction supervisor at the Trumbull County Educational Service Center. Rook was one of the students at his school who took a shop class. Through the years, however, those programs were phased out.
“We’re looking to bring it back, especially for those school districts that don’t have the means to do that,” Rook says. “What we’re trying to do here at the Trumbull County Educational Service Center is provide that for the school districts. So kids can report to our program in a brand-new facility, where they can learn these trades and have a leg up.”
The new program, renovation of the classroom space by Mike Coates Construction and much of the needed equipment were purchased with $300,000 in Ohio Department of Education grant money through the Governor’s Office of Workforce Transformation.
After about a year of planning, the Trumbull County ESC is ready to open the doors to the new pre-apprenticeship carpentry program, housed at the former Gordon D. James Career Center at 1776 Salt Springs Road.
Trumbull County ESC Superintendent Michael Hanshaw says he and others visited local high schools and explained the program. Howland, Niles, Lordstown and Girard are sending students for this school year. Others have expressed interest in the program.
Most important, the free program promotes jobs that pay well and are available here.
“They’re going to get their academics here. But maybe for a student who doesn’t want to move onto college but wants to pick up that trade, we can offer them in two years those beginning skills,” Hanshaw says. “They can move into the apprenticeship program, get into the working world and be able to earn money [as they] garner those talents.”
The first class of 23 juniors begins the two-year program this fall, although there is room for more students who may soon become interested. Next year, those students will be seniors and another class of juniors will be added.
Besides a math class that focuses specifically on what students need for a job in the skilled trades, students will learn employability skills. Training will focus on the hands-on operation of tools and new equipment the school was able to obtain, as well as the safety aspects that go with working in the skilled trades.
There are about 25 workstations in the classroom space, outfitted with all the tools and supplies needed to complete each project. Many of the tools were purchased through a $25,000 partnership with Lowe’s Home Improvement stores. Students will get a chance to hone their craft using popular name-brand tools like DeWalt, Kobalt and Craftsman.
Starting with a birdhouse project and gradually picking up skills, the students may be able to build a picnic table and Adirondack chairs by the end of the program.
As opposed to a career and technical center, this program will fill a niche and allow students to gain those skills while they continue to attend their own school districts, Rook says.
In addition to career coaching and free tuition, students can receive those much sought 12-point industry-recognized credentials and diploma seals.
Staying at their home high schools for part of the day, students will remain connected to their friends and other school activities, while getting a jump on their careers.
“They pick up those skills in two years – then can go on to actually getting their certification and licensure,” Hanshaw says. “We’re very excited about it. Another great opportunity for students in Trumbull County that can move on after high school and get into the building trades. We’re told by the building trades people and union that they’re in need, desperate need [of workers].”
With successful completion of this program and graduation from high school, the students will immediately qualify to enter the Ohio Carpenters’ Joint Apprenticeship and Training Program through the Northeast Ohio Carpenters’ Training Center regional office in Richfield. There, students would be pared with trained carpenters for on-the-job training.
Several skilled trades unions were represented at an open house held Aug. 9 at the new site.
John Sofranko, a representative of the Indiana/Kentucky/Ohio Regional Council of Carpenters and president of Carpenters Local 171, says a lot of big projects are in the works for the region and many local contractors always have a need for help.
“With large-scale projects both local and statewide, there’s never a point throughout the year when we do not take new carpenters or applicants,” says Sofranko, whose union was involved in bringing the program to the Trumbull County ESC. The Career Connections curriculum for the high school students at the Education Extension is through the Joint Apprenticeship Program.
“We reach out to the schools directly and give a presentation about what the curriculum is,” Sofranko says, noting those coming through this program will automatically be entered into the apprenticeship program.
“They’re going to learn basic hand and power tool skills,” he says. “They’re going to learn reading tape measures, the importance of completing projects and the camaraderie of working with other students and completing these projects together. That goes a long way in the field as well.”
Aaron Gunderman, area coordinator for the Ohio Carpenters training center, says students who come to the school with pre-apprenticeship training skills and safety training are ahead in the program. The adult apprenticeship is a four-year program with 17 weeks of instruction with a week in the classroom every four months. The rest of the time, the journeyman apprenticeship allows them to earn a salary while training.
“Contractors look at when somebody comes out of a trade school. [If they have] some sort of training beforehand, they know they are not getting someone fresh off the street,” Gunderman says.
Although it depends on the area, he says those in the Carpenters’ union can make good wages and enjoy good pensions and health care benefits.
The construction trades are ranked sixth on the Ohio Governor’s Office of Workforce Transformation top jobs list, while carpenters are listed 26th. The median salary for a carpenter is $50,000 with 26,000 employed in the field across the state and nearly 3,000 openings.
With people retiring from the field and plenty of construction jobs planned, Gunderman says it’s vital to train the next generation. Through the apprenticeship programs, experienced carpenters mentor the carpenters of the future.
The Trumbull ESC’s Rook says he would like to see high school students also benefit from the experience.
“We’re hoping that a big part of our curriculum will also involve bringing real employers and tradespeople into the classroom to talk with the students about their positions and experiences,” Rook says. “That way students can actually see and talk to someone who has been through it. We’re always looking for new partnerships and we’re hoping this is going to be a great program for everybody.”
Brian Collier, the field representative at Local 8 of the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers, says the Western Reserve Building Trades consists of 17 crafts. Some students may be a good fit for the carpentry program as well as other trades.
“The Carpenters have a wonderful program and put all this together. Give them all the credit for this curriculum and everything,” Collier says. “If a student goes through this program and they are not interested in carpentry, we keep in touch with the Educational Service Centers – all of these trades do. We have wonderful trades: electrical, cement finishers, plumbing, pipefitting. The list goes on.”
Pictured at top: James Rook (middle left), curriculum supervisor of the Trumbull County ESC, and John Sofranko (middle right), representative of the Indiana/Kentucky/Ohio Regional Council of Carpenters, cut the ribbon at the site of the new Education Extension Pre-Apprenticeship Program. They were joined by (from left) Robert Marino Jr., assistant superintendent at the Trumbull County ESC; Lori Simione, treasurer at the Trumbull County ESC; Mark Ferrara, Lordstown schools treasurer; Mike Hanshaw, superintendent at the Trumbull County ESC; and Greg Bonamase, superintendent of Lordstown schools.