Ohio Superintendent Emphasizes Workforce Development Pathways

NILES, Ohio — Workforce development efforts do not have to permeate strictly from universities and colleges, said Paolo DeMaria, superintendent of public instruction at the Ohio Department of Education. The state’s public education system has the tools to prepare students for life after graduation.

In 2017, the agency creates the “Each Child, Our Future” strategic plan, addressing 2019 to 2024, which emphasizes the commitment education plays in challenging students to discover and learn, prepares a fulfilling path after high school graduation and empowers productive members of society.

Part of that pathway begins as a business advisory council partner and a school system jointly educates students by partnering and providing activities and services – increasing the awareness of jobs and careers through properly crafted training programs. Burgeoning collaborations are through work-based learning, internships and after school programs, which benefits schools, workplaces and students by bolstering the labor cycle.

“When students have those kinds of experiences, it makes the learning a lot more relevant,” DeMaria said Monday at the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber’s Lattes & Legislators event. “They see the connection between math and science and what they might do with an employer, and that really makes those connections and builds excitement.” 

Paolo DeMaria, Ohio Department of Education superintendent of public instruction, speaks at the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber’s Lattes & Legislators.

Opportunities for those high school students are going to be intertwined as they navigate toward graduation and a possible debt-free opportunity to receive a college education through many options. Those students might got straight into a career path or wind through Eastern Gateway Community College to Youngstown State University while pursuing employment opportunities, said Rick Shepas, director for workforce development at YSU.

“I think it’s exciting because it’s creating more opportunities for the kids,” said Shepas, who was at Monday’s gathering at Trumbull County Education Service Center.

Much of DeMaria’s discussions with employers and schools focus on fostering excitement about career opportunities.Strong business connections and work-based learning opportunities provide enthusiasm that can help reduce absenteeism, the superintendent said.

“We don’t like to force people into things, but I think the more people understand the value of that they come to it on their own and their business community helps them get there,” DeMaria said. “Then, the students are the ones who benefit them.”

The COVID-19 pandemic reshaped education through remote learning, showing how technology can be a much more significant part of the educational experience, he said. 

Once example is the plethora of robotics teams around Ohio, combining competition and learning. He sees expanded interest in computer science, robotics and artificial intelligence, all of which are fields with high-paying jobs. 

Learning continues for all vocations, DeMaria said. Completing an apprenticeship program and required vocational studies in order to pass a certification exam is not the end of learning with specialized associate’s and bachelor’s degrees as possibilities. 

“Sometimes we sell those professions short because people don’t really understand not only what they are, but ultimately what they can lead to and how you can make a career out of that,” he said. “We need to do a better job. I think we are doing a better job.”

That goes back to the collaboration of not only schools and businesses, but local trade unions as well to strengthen the message sent to students, DeMaria said.

“I think we’re starting to see more and more students interested and excited about those opportunities,” he said.

Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.