Bus Tour Exposes Students to Job Opportunities

NEW MIDDLETOWN, Ohio — School’s out for summer, but 26 students boarded a school bus Monday morning to get a fresh perspective on what is available to them after they graduate high school.

The group of seventh- to ninth-grade students representing 21 school districts from Mahoning, Trumbull, Columbiana and Portage counties took part in the two-day Career Exploration Bus Tour that introduced them to eight employers in Mahoning County, including manufacturers, trades, small business, food service and government. The experience was eye-opening for Jacob Wolf, 14, Boardman Glenwood Junior High School.

“There are a lot more jobs and opportunities in our area than we really think there are,” Wolf says. “I really learned that there’s a business aspect to everything.”

After high school, Wolf plans to study finance in college, he says. While guidance counselors at his school discuss job opportunities in the area with students, he says the bus tour gives him a better perspective on the type of jobs that are available in the area.

“I feel like it’s a lot better of an experience to actually go to the places and learn about the jobs from the people who actually do it,” he says.

Just before noon on Monday, the students visited KTSDI LLC – the second stop of the day. Before that, they visited Scarsella’s Restaurant where they learned to make pizza, says Sandy Furano, lead career counselor at the Mahoning County Educational Service Center, which organized the bus tour. Other stops on Monday included Sweeney Chevy Buick GMC, Akron Children’s Hospital Beeghly Campus and the Boardman Township government office and fire department.

At the start of each day, speakers talk to the students about character and integrity, as well as pre-employment skills, what goes on a resume, interviewing techniques and how to properly use social media and Facebook.

“As soon as they get to us in the morning, we’re starting with learning and then we get on the bus and start exploring all these different stops,” she says.

Tuesday, the students will visit Holiday Inn Boardman, Datco Manufacturing Inc., Angels for Animals and training centers for the plumbing and electrical trades, Furano says. The goal is to present options to students who might feel like college isn’t for them, she says, and “you can still earn a great education through trades or an apprenticeship, learning with your hands, learning on the job, and not having that college debt.”

It also gives college-bound students an idea of how many careers are represented in one industry, she adds. So far the the business owners “are loving it,” she says.

“They love that one-on-one with the kids, that they’re actually in their building,” she continued. “You can have guest speakers in a classroom. But I think to actually see it on the company’s site, they’re all doing hands-on activities, there’s not a better way to really let the kids explore.”

That ability to directly reach students comes at a time when there are available jobs. But when it comes to finding qualified workers, “not really,” says Ken Timmings, manager at KTSDI.

“We’ve lost generations of tradesmen through the decline of the Valley, through the educational system not promoting it,” he says. “A majority of the schools have lost their shop tech programs and we’re suffering as a result of that.”

Ken Timmings, manager at KTSDI, gives students an overview of what the company does and who it serves.

During the visit, groups of students toured specific stations at the company, including the main office where staff explained what KTSDI did, as well as the shop and shipping and logistics. KTSDI remanufactures, distributes and engineers components for the heavy transportation market; many of the original equipment manufacturers the company partners with are based in Europe. The company also manufactures special vehicles for the heavy lift, shipbuilding and other industries.

The tour took about an hour before the students were back on the bus to go to the next destination.

Programs like the bus tour are important for getting students aware of and interested in these fields of work, Timmings says. Organizations like the Mahoning County ESC are doing what they can to promote area industries, particularly science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, and attending technical schools, he says.

KTSDI has been involved with a number of programs related to getting kids interested in STEM, particularly the younger kids, he says. Also this week, the company will again take part in the Summer Manufacturing Institute, a multi-week workshop open to kids in the fourth through sixth grades over the summer hosted by Oh Wow! The Roger & Gloria Jones Children’s Center for Science & Technology and the Youngstown YWCA.

“The traditional routes have not worked for the Valley and many other areas across the country,” Timmings says. “Our approach is to get it more in the beginning; K to 4 would be an ideal age, in our opinion, to introduce these kids to STEM technology, hands-on and the opportunities in the Valley.”

Getting students interested early gives companies like KTSDI a better chance of having a qualified work pool to hire from, he says. Otherwise, having smartphones at a young age leads kids to believe “they can Google their way through life, and that doesn’t leave us with any qualified workforce,” he says.

“If we introduce them much sooner, they’re going to pick up the tools of the trade and maybe show an interest and lead a career path,” he says.

Pictured above: On Monday, 26 students visited KTSDI LLC as part of the Career Exploration Bus Tour, organized by the Mahoning County Educational Service Center. The company’s manager, Ken Timmings (front row, far right) and his staff demonstrated the different aspects of the business.

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