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‘Endless opportunities’: Working with the trades is wave of the future

Posted By: Toledo Blade on September 4, 2023.  For more information, please click here to read the source article.

The future of Labor Day is at work at Penta Career Center in Perrysburg Township.

In a welding class, fiery orange sparks spurt up from welders in action. In another wing, a student wields a remote control — that he built — to work a robot. Nearby, another group of teens is learning how to wire an electrical outlet.

And these are mostly 17-year-olds.

Ty Grayson, a senior from Perrysburg, is learning how to program robots.

“I’m getting ahead by taking this opportunity,” said Mr. Grayson, who plans on pursuing an associate’s degree in electrical engineering at Owens Community College.

“I’ve talked to people in college and some of them didn’t even get to do this in college, until they got to the point where they were doing a co-op,” he said. “I’m getting ahead of the curve.”

The welding class, which was in the second week of the school year, is getting used to the gear, the smells and the heat, said instructor Ryan Thomas, who’s been at Penta for 16 years.

Ellie Dobbelare, a junior from Oak Harbor, Ohio, is one of the 100 welding students at Penta.

“It seemed like a lot of fun,” she said about choosing welding. “This is a great way to open a door before I graduate.”

“Welding is off the charts for us,” said Phil Stockwell, work force development coordinator at Penta.

More and more, the work force is looking to Penta for future employees, he said.

“When students go out on job placement, when they come out of programs, they don’t come back. Employers … say we are their ‘go to’ for machinists, welders,” Mr. Stockwell said.

“We want to stack the deck in the student’s favor. The more skills that are transferable, that mean something to the employers locally, the better off those students are going to be. They’ll be ready for success,” he said.

Penta graduates go on to work at First Solar in Lake Township, Werk-Brau in Findlay, Rosenboom Custom Crafted Cylinders in Bowling Green, and Whirlpool in Clyde, Ohio, Mr. Stockwell said.

“I just came from Otsego. There were 11 students alone at Otsego who are working at Rosenboom and coming out of our labs and the partnerships that we have,” Penta Superintendent Ed Ewers said.

Penta programming is geared toward life choices, he said.

“We’re not talking about two options, of college or career. We’re talking about pathways toward success, that allow a student to really decide what their future is going to look like,” Mr. Ewers said.

Phil Haas’ electrical class was learning how to splice wires and terminate them on outlets. When they graduate, the students will be ready to work in the residential housing industry, he said.

“My first year here, there was a little bit of buy-in from industry,” said Mr. Haas, who has been at Penta for 11 years.

“Over the last eight or 10 years, we’ve actually got partnerships with the IBEW, where they have an internship program, to try to get these young people on the job sites,” he said.

Penta has curriculum geared toward high students, and programming made for adults.

They primarily serve the 17-25 age group, Mr. Ewers said.

At Penta, students attend a traditional academic class three hours a day. For another three hours, they are learning a trade.

Penta’s member schools are Anthony Wayne, Benton-Carroll-Salem, Bowling Green, Eastwood, Elmwood, Genoa, Lake, Maumee, North Baltimore, Northwood, Otsego, Perrysburg, Rossford, Springfield, Swanton, and Woodmore.

Penta grad at work

Zak Wilson, of Swanton, said that he knew he always wanted to be a carpenter. Through Penta, he said he got his foot in the door at Rudolph Libbe Group, which is based in Walbridge.

“My grandfather was a carpenter and I always liked helping him,” said Mr. Wilson, who is a 2014 Penta graduate. Ryan Zellner, of Perrysburg, went through the Rudolph Libbe apprenticeship program in 2004.

“My dad was in the trades,” he said. “I actually considered going to school for engineering, but I like to work with my hands, in the field.”

With his carpentry specialty, Mr. Zellner has worked on Bass Pro Shop in Rossford and Kalahari in Sandusky. He became a foreman and is now a supervisor. An apprenticeship is more of a “guideline,” Mr. Zellner said, made up of mostly on-the-job training.

“You’ll go to school for a week, maybe every three months,” he said. “You get paid while you’re going to school.”

“The apprenticeship program, it’s open to people of all experiences,” Mr. Zellner said. “You learn as you work.”

Penta isn’t the only presence for Rudolph Libbe recruiting. They also have partnerships with Toledo Public Schools and the Washington Local School District, said Jim Philo, vice president of field operations.

“Draft Day,” which was put on by I Build the 419 in April, also helps recruit high school students. Also in the spring, there was a JA (Junior Achievement) Inspires event, which gives career ideas to middle and high school students.

According to the I Build the 419 website, the starting hourly wage for a journeyman is $35 per hour and includes benefits.

Mr. Philo said they try to reach students as young as sixth grade to discuss the different trade careers, including bricklayers, ironworkers, painters, roofers, cement masons, and carpenters.

“There’s a concern,” Mr. Philo said about filling future jobs. “That’s why we try to participate in all that we do. It’s an aging workforce.

“Right now, there’s a lot of work going on, so there’s a lot of opportunities,” he said. “For somebody getting in the trades, this is an ideal time.”

Looking for more

A career in trades is flexible and expanding. Mr. Philo said he started his career as a “tender,” supporting brick masons. He eventually earned a degree in construction management at Bowling Green State University. He’s been with Rudolph Libbe since 1989.

“Working with the trades gets you in the door and the opportunities are endless. It’s what the individual decides to make of it,” he said. Mike Keane, director of field operations for Rudolph Libbe, said his military service, from 1987-91, led to a trades career.

“I started doing some roofing and framing houses. At the time, in the ’90s, Rudolph Libbe was swamped,” Mr. Keane said. “I essentially got hired over the phone.”

He was a journeyman carpenter from 1990-2014, then was promoted to superintendent. The Hollywood Casino was his last project before he became a director. The careers aren’t just for kids either.

There’s a “Helmets to Hardhats” program available now for those with military service to get into the trades, without a sponsor immediately.

“I had a guy in my apprenticeship class who was 55,” Mr. Zellner said.

There will always be a need for the trades, he said.

“If you’ve been on a construction site, it would be pretty tough to do as a robot,” Mr. Zellner said.

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