Manufacturers Coalition Sees Its Goals Take Shape

CANFIELD, Ohio — As the Mahoning Valley Manufacturers Coalition approaches its fifth anniversary, its members are starting to see the group’s strategic plan pan out.

Industrial education classes at local vocational schools, teaching primarily machining and welding, are at capacity. Businesses are restarting their apprenticeship programs. And grant dollars for manufacturing initiatives are becoming more and more common.

“It seems like each one of our partners has found a way to align themselves with the plan,” Jessica Borza, MVMC’s executive director, said at the coalition’s quarterly meeting July 29. “And everyone’s found a way to support the pathways in manufacturing.”

The vocational schools in Trumbull, Mahoning and Columbiana counties are all working toward incorporating industry credentials into their classwork and working toward “articulation,” Borza said, where students advance through higher and higher levels of classes without repeating coursework.

“The message is starting to get out there,” said Joe Meranto, director of Choffin Career and Technical Center. “We have a welding program started five years ago that is at capacity now. Our machining program, which we’ve always had trouble getting students into, is at capacity.”

Traditionally the school has hosted students from Youngstown City Schools primarily, Meranto noted, but students from the Mahoning Valley’s parochial schools – Ursuline High School, Cardinal Mooney High School and Valley Christian Schools among them – are becoming an increasing portion of the student population.

“Traditionally, they’re college prep, but we’re seeing their students apply,” he says. “It’s great to see that. Interestingly enough, last year we had the valedictorian of Ursuline in the machining program. The word is getting out. It’s a good future in a great profession with lots of opportunities for all kinds of students.”

The number of female students in the machining and welding programs is also on the rise, he reported.

At the Mahoning County Career and Technical Center, the Valley STEM+ME2 academy will open this fall, offering freshman and sophomore high school students in the area experience with a wide variety of work in the science, technology, engineering, math and advanced manufacturing fields. As of the July 29 MVMC meeting, 92 students were enrolled in the academy.

“We were hoping for 25 originally and it has blown up. It’s been crazy and fast-paced,” said John Zehentbauer, assistant superintendent at MCCTC. “We’re fortunate to have state-of-the-art equipment with real world experiences. Many of our teachers will co-teach, moving back and forth [between the buildings], and many of our students will transition into our career center or continue in the STEM field.”

Further south, at the Columbiana County Career and Technical Center, enrollment is increasing, according to director Jeremy Corbisello, surpassing 500 students this fall.

“This group has done great things for the Valley, the tri-county area and into Pennsylvania and, most importantly, for our youth,” he said. “I’ve been here for 11 years and our enrollment’s usually been around 450 students.”

The welding program at the school has also grown, hitting capacity this year after struggling to reach 25 students just five years ago. This fall, as part of the program, CCCTC will launch a materials joining course, allowing students to see new applications of the work, including additive manufacturing and on assembly lines.

Both the Mahoning County Educational Service Center and the Columbiana County Educational Service Center were awarded Straight A Grants. Columbiana County’s $975,000 grant is targeted toward training teachers to use Ohio Means Jobs resources and do vocational assessments for students with disabilities.

Mahoning County was awarded three grants that will be used to develop workplace simulation courses to teach soft skills, establish early college programs in local school districts and create new programs for industry credentials.

Over MVMC’s five-year history, Borza noted, about $19 million in grants have been awarded to the coalition and its members.

For students who have completed programs and graduated from the technical schools, MVMC’s Apprenticeship Network will launch this fall. The five-year program reimburses businesses that hire apprentices. Initially, Borza said, the program’s first year was expected to include about 25 apprentices at eight companies.

“It’s looking like we might be double that heading into the fall,” she said. “Highlighting that is a group of manufacturers who came together to do a group-sponsored model, which means they all agree to a common curriculum.”

As the first round of students complete the career pathways laid out by the coalition, the results are becoming clearer. Students are again beginning to strongly consider manufacturing jobs and employers are starting to be able to find the employees they need.

“That’s the power of everyone working together to figure out how to respond to the needs of manufacturers, but also make it make sense for the students as well,” Borza said.

Pictured: Columbiana County Careeer and Technical Center director James Corbisello updates members of the Mahoning Valley Manufacturers Coalition on his vocational school’s curriculum for this fall.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.