New Castle News

February 23, 2013

Educational Options: With energy in our future, college isn’t for everyone

Lugene Hudson
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — The straight path that leads to a traditional college landscape is starting to have a few curves.

It’s long been known that a university or college education isn’t for every student.

Now, with higher-paying jobs opening in the manufacturing and technical fields, and the Marcellus shale boom, options for high school juniors and seniors are multiplying. And the lines between blue collar and white collar jobs are blurring.

“Other Ways to Win,” a book written by Penn State professor Ken Gray, sums up an alternative approach to further education.

Andy Tommelleo, director of the Lawrence County Career and Technical Center, said, “Ken Gray’s book goes beyond the belief that the only way to win is with a four-year degree. That’s not the case at all.”

The school collaborates with energy companies to provide equipment and training; partners with manufacturing companies such as The Ellwood Group; and works with Butler County Community College in the welding area.

At the Lawrence Crossings campus of Butler County Community College, director Diane DeCarbo agrees with Tommelleo’s assessment.

“Not every student needs a bachelor’s degree,” DeCarbo said. “These upcoming job opportunities are changing the mindsets of parents.”

Industry and manufacturing are a totally different world than that of the great-grandparents of our young people,” noted Paula McMillin, executive director of Lawrence County School to Work.

“With computerization and increased emphasis on environmental and safety issues, the concerns have greatly changed,” McMillin acknowledged.



SKILL SETS

As the shift in the job climates changes, courses revolving around STEM — or science, math, technology and engineering — will be tweaked to keep up with those changes and prepare students for these types of jobes, said Joy Ruff, community outreach manager for the Marcellus Shale Coalition.

“We need to create awareness that the basic level of skill sets necessary in the energy industry also transfers to a variety of industries in the region,” Ruff said.

Michelle Hoffman, branch manager of Manpower of Hermitage, said soft skills need to be taught in schools, and that apprenticeships and internships are vital.

Soft skills are frequently described by using terms associated with personality traits, such as optimism, common sense, responsibility and integrity, and abilities that can be practiced including empathy, teamwork, leadership, communication, manners, negotiation, sociability and the ability to teach.

“It’s often said that hard skills will get you an interview, but you need soft skills to get the job,” Hoffman said.

At a recent School to Work program, Ruff spoke to area school counselors during a question-and-answer session, and was pleased with the interest shown.

Ruff said she and the group engaged in dialogue and she also explained about the Junior Achievement Careers in Energy program.

“We need to teach students about energy and look at ways to partner with different businesses,” Ruff noted. “And it’s critical to let students about about all the traning programs from basic to beyond four-year degrees such as geoscientists and engineers.”

McMillin pointed out that, “We try to show the counselors these are positions for each level of training along with the wages.”

In this area, manufacturing produces the highest average income, she confirmed.

“As we go into businesses, we hear that employees are needed who possess a good work ethic, math and technical skills and are drug free.”



STARTING EARLY

Introductions to opportunities can start as early as seventh grade, explained Amy Lutz and Camille Pia, counselors at Mohawk Junior/Senior High School. That’s when speakers from various industries address students on career choices.

There have been changes in the student pathway to offer more technical programs, Pia said, adding, “You don’t necessarily need to pursue college to get a good-paying job, although some parents may have difficulties changing their mindset about college.”

Lutz pointed out that, in most cases, students require some type of post-secondary training or certified programs for areas such as manufacturing, welding and equipment operation.

“These don’t require a four-year degree and more jobs are available resulting in less student loan debt,” she acknowledged.

“In a time when some schools are getting rid of technical programs, we’ve chosen to sustain ours,” she continued. “As well pads pop up in our back yards, student interest is becoming more prevalent.”

At the School to Work program, Pia said she learned from Ruff the types of jobs in the shale industry, adding it solidified her belief that there must be a higher proficiency in math.

“As a counselor, we can be prepared to guide them on where to look for employment opportunities.”

Shenango’s Career Cafe has been in place for eighth-graders to hear representatives from different fields.

According to Deanna Othities, school counselor, a geologist from Marcellus Shale was to address the group this month.

In April, a program based on science, technology, engineering and mathematics or STEM will be presented to introduce students to these options.

“We try to explore these other areas as much as possible.”



GETTING THE WORD OUT

Michele McClelland, a counselor at Laurel Junior/Senior High, said great attention is paid to local business and industry trends.

Updates from companies provide resources to pass on to students, she said, and to keep up with those trends, the curriculum is constantly adapted. For example, physics classes incorporate environmental issues and the vocational-agricultural program provides skills such as welding and electricity.

“It has expanded because of more students’ interest.”

The counselor emphasized that every student needs more than a high school diploma.

“We see apprenticements to four-year college programs to everything in between.”



JOB PREP

The New Castle School of Trades has adapted some of its courses to meet the presence of Marcellus shale in this area.

About 25 students are enrolled in the diesel program and there are eight in the power generation course, which is an add-on to the two-year diesel program, said Jim Buttermore, director.

Heavy equipment field service training is another option, added Tony Giovannelli, director of education.

Rex Spalding, president — who said the school has partnered with Cleveland Bros. and Cummins — believes there is a tremendous need for these types of jobs, and the school wants to train locally.

“Programs we’ve long offered here such as industrial maintenance, welding, hydraulics and pneumatics, and electrical skills are now tailored for the shale industry,” Giovannelli continued.

Still fighting the perception that only those with average grades are enrolled, he countered that “Very smart, talented people come here.”

Times have changed. And skill sets are becoming more sophisticated.

“Our electricity program is not just a guy climbing a pole, but someone savvy in computers,” Spalding said.

Companies associated with drilling that graduates are working for include Halliburton, Appalachian Mill Services, Universal Mill Services, Superior Mill Services, Frontier Energy, Baker Hughes, Rosebud Mining, Chevron Energy and Keane Co.

Dr. Steve Catt, executive director of workforce development at the community college, said programs connected to the energy industry range from the three-week ShaleNet curriculum to two-year associate’s degrees. Representatives from the school recruit through schools, CareerLink, National Guard programs and Veterans Affairs, Catt said, and courses to prepare for the next phase in the shale industry — including welding, excavating and production technician are already being looed at.

The ShaleNet curriculum at the main campus covers the areas of roustabout, — an entry level job —floor hand, production technician, commercial driver’s license and welder’s helper.

It’s an exciting time for those coming into the job markets, noted Lisa Campbell, director for business training at BC3.

“Opportunities are there for the next generation.”

(Email: lhudson@ncnewsonline.com.)