Concord Township, Ohio — Help might be on the way for plastics processors and other manufacturers who need skilled labor — thanks to the efforts of the Auburn Career Center and other vocational schools across the country.
Auburn, located in Concord Township, Ohio, about 30 miles east of Cleveland, has 20 new students lined up for its manufacturing program for the 2017-18 school year. That's up from its current numbers of 12 seniors and 18 juniors in the program, according to business partnership coordinator Michelle Rodewald.
The center also has 10 adults enrolled in its short-term manufacturing program. Financial aid is available to adult students. The high school program is open to juniors and seniors, but starting next year will be open to sophomores. The change is because of a lower overall enrollment number in the 11 school districts that are served by Auburn.
High school students spend a half-day at Auburn and the rest of the day at their home schools. The manufacturing program provides training that students can use in a variety of industrial jobs.
"Industrial companies are knocking on our doors," Rodewald said April 6 at the center. "They're asking for machinists, industrial maintenance workers and electrical workers. They're looking for people with a good work ethic who will show up every day."
When industrial companies contact Auburn, there are a variety of steps the center takes to fill the skills that are needed.
"We like to visit the company and see what they need firsthand," Rodewald said. "We've got more companies looking for labor than we have students."
Tool and die training given at Auburn can apply to plastic technologies such as injection molding and extrusion, she added. But the center still has to overcome outdated images of manufacturing.
"A lot of people still think manufacturing is low-paying and is done in a dirty environment," Rodewald said. "They're surprised to see how much it's changed."
On April 6, students were working on a variety of machines at Auburn's manufacturing lab. The lab has six CNC machines and 20 CNC simulators, where students can learn CAD/CAM technology. Some of the lab's equipment was donated by the Kennametal Foundation, which is part of industrial firm Kennametal Inc.
"When the kids get here, they know the computer stuff inside out," manufacturing instructor Terry Colescott said. "They need help more on the mechanical side."
Some students also were designing and making parts for an upcoming battlebots competition.
"When you size those parts up, they're similar to parts used in cars," Colescott said. He added that all of the seniors in the program already have manufacturing jobs lined up for after graduation, and all of the program's juniors have internships.
Auburn has worked with several plastics companies and currently has an internship program with plastics extruder Mercury Plastics of Middlefield. Student Shane Delbo has been with Mercury for the current school year and has done a good job so far, according to Mercury employee Ken Klima.
Delbo works in Mercury's tool and die shop, said Klima, who also represents Cardinal Local Schools in working with Auburn. Mercury may offer the internship next year as well, he added.
"We need people who are willing to work in general," Klima said by phone April 11. "It's hard to find responsible people."
Auburn also has worked with plastic shapes maker Cast Nylons of Willoughby and thermoset molder and materials maker Mar-Bal Inc. of Chagrin Falls. The center also recently placed an IT worker at plastics and rubber compounder Hexpol Compounding of Burton.
Auburn officials also are deciding when to return to the ballot for much-needed additional funding. A levy that would have helped pay for repairs to the center's facilities was rejected by 55 percent of voters in November.
The levy request was the first time the Auburn Vocational School District — which operates the center — had asked for additional funding in 52 years. Most voters would have paid less than $10 per year in additional property taxes.
Overall, the center now provides training to 600 high school students and 250 adults in a wide variety of fields ranging from advanced manufacturing and automotive technology to health care and emergency medical services. The rejected levy would have been in place for only five years, but would have raised more than $1.1 million for permanent improvements to the district's facilities and programs.
Rodewald said that center officials recently met with another nearby vocational district that also faced funding challenges. That district eventually succeeded at the ballot by focusing on the ways that it was helping students train for jobs, instead of on physical repairs needed to buildings.
"We have to reach 400,000 voters, so we need to make sure it's the right message," she added.