Area students experience drilling into concrete under the supervision of Vantage students and instructors. (DHI Media/Robin Pennell)
Area students experience drilling into concrete under the supervision of Vantage students and instructors. (DHI Media/Robin Pennell)
By Robin Pennell

The Times Bulletin

VAN WERT — The first annual Van Wert Build Your Future collaborated event for the purpose of exposing students to skilled trades was a blast for everyone. Build Your Future (BYF) is a nationwide program established in 1997 as a teleconference explaining construction careers. It was broadcast to more than 300,000 students in over 4,000 schools that year.

In 2011, BYF expanded into a full recruitment campaign focusing on establishing and growing relationships between industries. BYF eventually grew to reach veterans and students offering scholarships and pathways to a construction career.

Recently, Sara Zura approached Vantage Career Center with an idea to bring BYF to Van Wert area students. Zura explained that their company is losing good construction workers to retirement and the company needs to develop a system to find and recruit young people interested in a construction career before everyone with the knowledge and experience retires out of the company. The industry is looking for people who “are teachable, dependable, loves to create, and troubleshoot,” said Jane Schmid of the Van Wert Area Economic Development Corporation.

With the collaboration of Vantage Career Center and other local businesses, the program was developed. Freshmen and sophomores from Van Wert City Schools, Lincolnview Schools, and Crestview Schools were selected by school counselors to participate in the program. Zura firmly insisted that all students, regardless of academic achievement, should be able to attend if they had an interest in any area of construction.

With Vantage Career Center, Zaru and her team selected a variety of construction skills for the students to try out. Skill stations included rebar bending, rebar fastening, concrete drilling, roofing, siding, big equipment handling, and more. Over 90 Vantage instructors, juniors and seniors had the special task of instructing and mentoring the students at each station. They set up the event during their lab times, managed the time, observed the students, and instructed in safety and tool use. “This takes Vantage students’ experience to the next level from just doing it to teaching, coaching, helping, and communicating,“ said Superintendent Rick Turner.

As many as 217 students worked in groups of seven so they could all have their turn trying out the skill. Vantage students demonstrated the skills for the students to model. Everyone was having fun learning and was eager to try everything out. Students were commenting that they really liked the experience and many were interested in going to Vantage to pursue one of the five programs that were represented at the event.

Schmid reported that the construction industry has opportunities for advancement and can be lucrative. She indicated that “Van Wert has local education opportunities through Vantage, through contractors that offer apprenticeship type programs, job shadowing, work experience for senior students.” OhioMeansJobs has several construction businesses listed that are looking for employees. The sky is the limit.

Future plans for the event include expansion to more schools and trade schools, more contractors. ‘We are growing, we’re learning. I think the future is going to bring additional things including consideration of different grade levels. We’re open to whatever it takes to improve the event. But also to show our youth what the opportunities are there and provide a workforce for our local contractors. So, it’s really a win-win for everyone,” stated Turner, Vantage Superintendent.

Miriam Owens, Community Relations Coordinator for Vantage Career Center, said about the outcome of the event, “This is a great foundation to work off of. We had so much participation from our employers and communication about activities and activity choices. We can only grow from here.” They have a great collaboration with the employers in the area so this event was the natural next step in their business relationship.

Turner also emphasized that “Everyone’s just trying to prepare students for work and college, and keep them in our communities, and show them that they don’t need to move away. They can stay right here and have a tremendous life, and raise a family in this great community.” After students graduate from Vantage for high school, they have opportunities to enrich their high school training in adult programs. Many of them enroll in the EMT and Public Safety programs. If they are 18 years old by February of their senior year, they get their CDL. Students have to be 18 years of age to participate in apprenticeship programs during their senior year.

A big thank you goes out to those who donated their expertise, man-hours, their employees to help fabricate the stations, financial help and donations. According to Schmid, “It was a huge collaboration.”

Collaborators with Vantage were Alexander and Bebout, Ayers Mechanical, All Temp Refrigeration, Van Wert Economic Development, Van Wert Ag Society, the Van Wert Fair, Ohio Means Jobs, United Way, Ace Hardware, and Fastenal.