New Castle News

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February 23, 2013

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

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.”

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