Kids Want to Like the Work They Do

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Before demonstrating his work as a pipefitter, Joe Longo asked groups of middle school and high school students the same question.

“How many of you are thinking about going to college?” asked the member of the Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 396. Nearly all hands being raised was the reply from just about every group. What he said next drew an audible gasp from students.

“We’re the highest-paid trade. We make anywhere from $58 an hour, total package,” Longo said.

The “Oohs” from the students would lead one to believe that Longo had sold them all on careers as pipe-fitters. However, when some of the students attending the inaugural Mahoning Valley Skilled Trades Expo last month were asked what’s most important to them in a career path, their answers revealed something different.

“You have to do something you love,” said Veronica Sanders, a junior at Howland High School who plans to study photography in college. “If you get a lot of money, but you’re doing something you don’t like, it’s not going to be worth it. You have to love it to do it.”

“Making good money and being secure in your job is very important, but I think enjoying yourself and doing something you love is definitely mandatory,” echoed Haley Smith. The Howland junior wants to pursue a career as a registered nurse.

“If you don’t really love what you’re doing, then why are you even at that job?” asked Alyssa Stickler, a sophomore at Sebring McKinley High School. Stickler wants to own a bakery, but said she attended the event to see the other options in the area.

Many of the nearly 4,200 students who attended the Mahoning Valley Skilled Trades Expo seemed to agree with the value of doing what one loves. But the benefit in earning good wages out of high school was not lost.

Kaden Bandy, a junior from West Branch High School in Beloit, said one of the presenters he heard that day shared his own experience of making $80,000 annually out of high school. The only drawback, Bandy said, was the travel.

“He was gone for six months in California. But if you’re out of high school, you don’t have a family to provide for and you’re mainly on your own, so it doesn’t really affect you,” Bandy said.

After he graduates from high school, Bandy said he plans to study education in college. “Teachers have made a big impact on my life,” and he hopes he can do the same for others, he said. However, attending the expo at the Canfield Fairgrounds opened his eyes to other opportunities available, particularly working as a lineman.

What really caught his attention was the fact the trades pay for training, “so you won’t be in debt like you would be in college,” he said.

Connor Hicks agrees. The senior at Leetonia High School is taking construction classes at the Columbiana County Career and Technical Center. Hicks had planned to attend college, but the trades appealed to him because they provide a pathway to get right to work out of high school, he said.

“You’re getting paid to go to school. You’re getting paid to learn,” he said. “Outside of your learning, once you’re done with your years, you’re going to have a high-quality paying job outside of high school.”

That “earn while you learn” concept is a main part of the message from the trades representatives, said Gary Hartman, association services director for The Builders Association Eastern Ohio and Western Pennsylvania. A poll the Builders conducted found that college debt is among the chief concerns of high school students, Hartman said.

Some of the training programs have a college degree associated with it, he said, “and it’s not costing them a dime. They’re making money while they’re doing it.” There’s also the possibility of college graduates not finding work after graduation. Trades, however, are “constantly hiring,” he said.

“Having that career set before you even before you start learning is a different way to do it versus going to college for four years or six years, getting that degree and coming out trying to find a job,” he said. “Locally, a lot of college graduates are struggling trying to find jobs in their field and pay off their student debt.”

Making good money is one reason Hayli White got into welding during her junior year at David Anderson Junior/Senior High School in Lisbon. Now a senior, she said welding is “the best thing you could do to make a lot of money.

“And I like money,” White said with a laugh. “So I might as well get good at it.”

White took advantage of the opportunity at the expo to meet with company representatives and skilled trades members. Armed with a stack of resumes, she handed them out to potential employers, such as Indiana-based Miller Pipeline.

Dean Thomas, who attends Hubbard High School, sits in the cab of a power shovel.

The company operates in more than 20 states and looks to double in size within the next eight to 10 years, “so there’s plenty of growth opportunity,” said its regional safety and quality coordinator, Ben Lacy.

“We’re looking for young, motivated individuals like [White] to work for Miller Pipeline,” Lacy said. Events such as the expo are critical to raising awareness of local work opportunities because many students don’t realize the opportunities that exist right outside their doors, he said.

“They drive past us every day and don’t realize that,” he said. “They can come start with us and make $60,000 a year with awesome benefits and health care.”

Raising that awareness was one of the main goals for the expo, said Robert Eggleston, career counselor with the Mahoning County Educational Service Center. 

Over the last year, the center brought trades representatives into the schools to familiarize students with the people who work the jobs available locally, he said.

The trades expo provided a hands-on demonstration of that work to raise awareness and combat the so-called brain drain that siphons talent from the area.

“It shows that the jobs are here,” he said. “We have the jobs. We have the people available to do them. It’s just a matter of letting them know where it is and how to find it.

Yet, when asked if she wants to work locally, White answered with an emphatic “no.”

“I want to move away. I want to go far, far away,” she said. “I want to get out of my small little area that I’ve been in for all my life.”

Working locally was a mixed bag among students. While White looks to travel, others prefer to stay.

Gavin Rambo, a freshman at Leetonia High School, wants to work locally and said the local unions and events such as the skilled trades expo make breaking into the trades easier. 

“There’s not many people I know that want to move a state away or to Pittsburgh or somewhere like that to pursue something,” Rambo said. “There are a lot of really good opportunities around here and I’m glad there are expos like this that explain that and give you an opportunity to try it out.”

Rambo believes college would be “a great thing to pursue” and is interested in a career in law enforcement. However, his father and grandfather – both tradesmen – have influenced him. He’s spoken with his father about his job at Vallourec Star.

“It’s pretty intriguing to see what he’s gone through to get to that,” he said. “It’s kind of a family thing.”

For Nathan Moore, staying close to home is important for his future work environment, he said. Moore wants to study avionics so he can work on commercial aircraft. While leaving the area isn’t out of the question, the Girard High School senior said he wants to work in the same community as his friends.

“I prefer local because I love my area and I love Girard,” he said. “If I go somewhere else that I don’t know, then it would be weird to me. I can also make new friends there, but I prefer to stay here because I grew up with half of these people here with me.”

Vincent Kinsey and Jacob Wiery, both seventh-graders at Springfield Elementary School, have fathers who work in the trades: Kinsey’s father worked in lumber while Wiery’s works in heating, cooling and ventilation. While both of their parents are encouraging them to attend college – Kinsey for law and Wiery for engineering – they say seeing the number of opportunities available for work in the trades in the area gives them another option.

“It’s amazing to see all the different options that you have in the area to work,” Wiery said. “If engineering didn’t work out for me, I would definitely look into some of these trades.”

Malachi Bannarn agrees, saying the trades expo is “a pretty good way to see what’s out there.” Now a senior at Campbell Memorial High School, he said he wants to study journalism in college, but is exploring the trades as a “fall back option.” 

While going to college and entering the trades are “neck and neck,” his parents are encouraging him to do what he wants to do, he said.

“My parents are basically just telling me to do whatever I see fit to, and whatever seems to help me through my future,” he said.

It’s an opinion shared by many parents of the students attending the expo, and by the Mahoning County ESC’s Eggleston.

“Choose the career you want, then find the pathway it takes to get there,” he said.

Pictured above: Jim Nolfi, president of Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 396, shows Derek Stratton, South Range, how to tighten and loosen pipe.

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