Skilled Trades Expo Opens Students’ Eyes to Career Paths

CANFIELD, Ohio – Working in the trades has been on Emma Lynn’s radar.

The 15-year-old Sebring McKinley High School student was one of thousands of students in seventh through 12th grades attending the first day of the Mahoning Valley Skilled Trades Expo held Wednesday at the Canfield Fairgrounds.

Her skills were tested at the Bricklayers and Tilesetters Local 8 and the Ohio Laborers Union booths, opening her eyes to options she didn’t consider before with bricklaying and surveying work.

Lynn, who adds if she’ll pursue a culinary career if she does not go into the trades, says the tasks were a little overwhelming.

“It’s really hard,” she says. “It’s definitely a skill that takes time.”

On Sept. 22, students from Mahoning, Columbiana and Portage counties toured the exhibitors booths throughout the fairgrounds. Students from Trumbull County, as well as Mercer and Lawrence counties in Pennsylvania, will have their chance during the Sept. 23 session from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Rob Eggleston, lead career counselor at the Educational Service Center of Eastern Ohio, expects 2,500 students each day. In 2019, the inaugural one-day event drew more than 4,500. The expo was canceled in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

By splitting the expo into two days, it gives students more one-on-one time with the exhibitors to get hands-on experiences, Eggleston says.

“There’s actually kids in there laying brick right now,” he says. “It’s a really nice flow.”

On Wednesday afternoon, from 3 to 6 p.m., a session was held for adults.

Gary Hartman, association services director for The Builders Association of Eastern Ohio and Western Pa., hopes the Skilled Trades Expo will drive more awareness to trades jobs in the Mahoning and Shenango valleys. 

Currently, there are 500 students enrolled in local pre-apprenticeship programs, he says. He hopes to see that number increase with the exposure at this week’s expo.

“Hopefully in six months, they’ll be looking for that employment opportunity,” Hartman says. “If it educates them and gives them an opportunity to move into a different pathway if they’re not comfortable going to college … it’s a win.”

Aiden St. Clair, a 16-year-old at Struthers High School, aspires to be a professional boxer, but he’s eyeing the trades as a possible fallback plan. Besides a boxing career, he’s thinking about attending college.

Wednesday morning’s event is giving him an opportunity to explore local trades.

“If I had to do a trade, I’d do something like carpentry or an electrician,” he says.

Pictured: Michael Brobst, left, an instructor with the Ohio Laborers Union, shows off surveying tools to Sebring McKinley High School students Emma Lynn, center, and Emma Seevers, right, at Wednesday morning’s Mahoning Valley Skilled Trades Expo at the Canfield Fairgrounds

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