Fast track to work: Local students choose Career Technical Education for real-life job training

This is the second story in FreshWater Cleveland's new series focusing on the suburbs surrounding Cleveland. Built mostly before the 1960s, these “first” suburbs face challenges ranging from urban sprawl to disinvestment. But shrinking news coverage reports mostly on crime. This series instead will look at the unheralded people and innovative programs that are making a difference, through a solutions-based journalism lens.

With rising tuition costs at traditional four-year colleges and universities, and a high demand for skilled workers—particularly in Northeast Ohio’s manufacturing industry—many high school students in the region are looking to fast-track their way into learning the skills they need for almost-guaranteed job security.

The region has several Career and Technical Education programs that fill a variety of employers’ needs. Several local schools offer career training or coursework for college credit in fields ranging from manufacturing to culinary arts and hospitality—paths that can lead to a custom-designed career track.

Career and Technical Education programs, known as CTE, are a good option for students uninterested in a traditional education path, says Gabrielle Scorzino, a spokeswoman for the Cuyahoga Valley Career Center.

Max S. Hayes High School precision machining program.“Our programs are suited for those who prefer a more hands-on learning approach, as well as a student who is interested in a particular field, [because] we have various programs covering many career fields,” she says.

CTE options are increasingly popular, with growing demand for skilled workers in the fields that this educational path trains students for, she says. And the old belief that vocational training was solely for geeks and students who weren’t considered book-smart is gone.

“There has absolutely been more interest in career-technical education, especially with so many job opportunities available in areas like construction, HVAC, machining, and health care,” she says. “I absolutely think the stigma is changing, our students are proud to be gaining a quality education and skill set that can be used for their future and to have a successful career.

CTE allows students to move more quickly into the fields they choose to study—getting hands-on experience and on-the-job training in some of the fields that have a dire need for skilled workers. The jobs are plenty, and they pay well.

Demand in manufacturing

Manufacturing has a strong history in Cleveland and continues to be the region’s strongest industry—driving more than half of Northeast Ohio’s economy, according to Adam Snyder, managing director of MAGNET’s Sector Partnership.

“The reality of the situation is the vast majority of students don’t know about manufacturing, and there are 1,500 open manufacturing jobs in Northeast Ohio right now,” he says. “And 30% of manufacturing employees are 55 and over.”

The younger generation often sees manufacturing jobs as dirty work in windowless buildings in undesirable neighborhoods, Snyder says.

But manufacturers are trying to change that view and are willing to pay good wages, he says. They are quick to promote and train for advancement and even pay for continuing education.

“Manufacturers are eager to identify people who want to go into manufacturing,” he says. “It’s not even the perception gap of 10 to 15 years ago, it’s an awareness gap.”

MAGNET works with organizations like the Boys and Girls Clubs of Cleveland, middle schools, and even adults through their workforce training programs, says Brianna Schultz, vice president of workforce development at MAGNET. They also host guest speakers, manufacturing exploration seminars, and even facilitate paid internships.

“The workforce is one of the biggest concerns of manufacturers in Cleveland,” she says. “We help students think through what makes the most sense for them.”

Catherine Rybak from Parma High School’s Career and Technical Education program. A blend of two loves

CTE is not limited to the manufacturing sector. Parma City School District offers a variety of industry certifications, college credits, and work-based learning through its CTE Program. Students at Parma, Normandy, and Valley Forge High Schools take their core academic classes at their individual schools and then spend half of their school days at Parma in CTE study.

“Some of our CTE programs such as teacher professions, engineering, and biotechnology require further education,” says Kristen Plageman, director of Parma’s career tech program. “Other CTE programs, such as cosmetology, culinary, auto collision, welding, carpentry, medical STNA, and auto service technology, students can enter the workforce upon graduation.”

Valley Forge senior Catherine Rybak blended her visual communications classes from her sophomore and junior years with the welding program she entered in her junior and senior years.

Rybak says the combination suited her interests perfectly. “I chose visual communication because I’ve loved art all my life, and my friends said I’d learn more than just art,” she says. “But then I got interested in welding, and I thought that’s an interesting way to [merge] art stuff with welding. And there are great jobs in welding.”

Rybak has honed her welding skills, as well as mastered Adobe Creative Cloud, Illustrator, In Design, and Photoshop through the two CTE tracks.

And there are jobs that require the unique set of skills Rybak has amassed, says Plageman, citing Lincoln Electric’s welding sculpture projects as one example.

Rybak plans to go to a four-year art school after graduation—right now she has her sights set on Montserrat College of Art in Massachusetts. But she also plans to get a welding job to help pay for school.

Garfield Heights High School senior Adam Smith fell in love with cooking as a child and enrolled in the Cuyahoga Valley Career Center’s culinary arts program.A love for cooking turned into a career

Garfield Heights High School senior Adam Smith fell in love with cooking as a child, when he helped cook in his grandfather’s deli. “I always knew cooking was in my blood,” he says.

So, it was an obvious choice for Smith to enroll in Cuyahoga Valley Career Center’s culinary arts program to fulfill his dream of becoming a private chef.

“My favorite part of the program is being able to be creative and express myself through food,” he says. “I feel I am a quality leader within my program. I also really appreciate that CVCC has opportunities for students to learn areas they are passionate about, being hands-on every day is a great joy for me.”

The career center provides about 1,000 area high school students in eight school districts with nearly 30 CTE programs, as well as offers K-12 career education, according to Superintendent Dave Mangas, serving more than 25,000 students, and provides adult education and community services to the southeast suburbs.

After high school, Smith plans to join the U.S. Navy as a culinary specialist and continue to pay homage to his grandfather, who first fueled his passion for cooking.

“Ultimately, my dream is to become a private chef and eventually open my own restaurant,” he says. “I want to create a positive, family atmosphere where all feel welcome.”

The series is made possible through the support of Citizens Bank, the First Suburbs Consortium, and the First Ring Schools Collaborative.

Read more articles by Karin Connelly Rice.

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 20 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.