Workforce importance emphasized

MARIETTA – Career and technical education got another pat on the back Friday when Ohio Gov. John Kasich made an appearance at Pioneer Pipe Inc. in Marietta to stress the importance of workforce development, vocational education and integrating business into the classroom.

In connection with Kasich’s Jobs Ohio initiative, the governor visited the company credited with its award-winning apprenticeship program with the Washington County Career Center.

With a few dozen industry officials, education administrators and local politicians, Kasich led a panel discussion designed to further tout the benefits of early and strong vocational education.

“We need an education system that’s flexible, an education system the responds to the passions of our students,” he said. “It’s time to stop taking vocational education out of the school and bringing it back in, and we need to train the students for the jobs that exist.”

Kasich noted recent legislation that extends vocational education into the seventh grade and allows vocational schools to play a more vital role in high school education by allowing students to use workforce certification as a graduation requirement.

“Marietta is a great, great town, and we have to look for those niches and those growth areas in our area,” Kasich said. “If you have jobs, everything is better. If you don’t have jobs, things get worse.”

Other Republican elected officials and candidates were also in attendance, including U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio; Ohio Rep. Andy Thompson, R-Marietta; and Ohio 94th district candidate Yolan Dennis.

Kasich commended Pioneer Pipe CEO David Archer, who three years ago entered into a partnership with the career center to offer a welding program that allowed students to receive credit in school and move right into an upper-level apprenticeship at the company.

“We’ve had interest not only in Ohio, but in West Virginia and Indiana and from different people who have looked at our program,” Archer said. “They realize they have a great opportunity to learn a craft.”

While recognizing the program, as well as strengthened welding, manufacturing and other two-year programs offered at WCCC and Washington State Community College, Kasich called for a need for more.

“That’s why we’re beefing up vocational education,” he said. “(Archer) is taking students and training them for something where they can make money… and we need more of this.”

Archer said a large shortage in welding and other related professions, in addition to the job security provided by the regional oil and gas industry, means these programs are becoming more important than ever.

“And if we had the funding, we could probably double our program,” he said.

About 18 students enter the three-year-old apprenticeship program a year.

Bill Lee, principal of Marietta High School, noted that “traditional” K-12 schools are trying to do their part in the push for more vocational education, as his own district pioneered the Building Bridges to Career Program for students to gain interest in thinking about their careers with job shadowing and job search course work.

“It’s our obligation as a school system to produce a product,” Lee said. “When our kids go through K-12, they should be able to assimilate into the work force.”

Kasich asked for a show of hands of employers who struggle to find workers, with more than a few of them putting their hands up.

“We need those skills and those manual skills that come along with it,” said Jim Black, interim director of the Southeastern Ohio Port Authority. “If they aren’t there, we can’t attract business, so one of the things we need to do is start at the seventh grade level and turn these kids on to an occupation early on.”

Kasich stressed new programs through Jobs Ohio that use smart phone and Internet applications to connect students to employers and provide resources for job training, along with the new Community Connectors initiative that Kasich said is the next step.

“If you want to organize a group that will involve a school house, students, guardians or parents, a faith-based element and a business community, the state will match every $1 with $3,” Kasich said. “The purpose is to get you to mentor these kids, and this program is up now, and you can apply for it.”

Community Connectors is rolled into Ohio House Bill 483 that includes other educational reforms, and sets aside $10 million from Ohio’s four casinos for grants for three-to-one matches of what local communities spend on programs to mentor and guide children in schools.

Kasich continued to urge the business officials, from chemical plant representatives to professionals from retail communities, to be active in education.

“We need to be fully integrated into these schools in a polite and determined way to let them know what you’re about,” Kasich said. “You can’t leave that up to Columbus.”