MANSFIELD — As a high school student, Mark Karbula enjoyed working with his hands. He took electrical and carpentry classes, dabbled with welding and joined 4-H.
Like most students his age, Karbula assumed that in order to be successful, he needed a college degree. After high school graduation, he began a program in engineering machining, but later decided it wasn’t the right path for him.
“There is value, I think, in college for some trades,” said Karbula, now an aspiring electrician. “For our trade ... it is a path. I’m not one to say it’s everyone’s path.”
Now 28, Karbula is in his fourth year as an apprentice through the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (the program lasts five years). As an apprentice, Karbula works full time in the field and attends training courses in the evening.
Apprentices in the IBEW program receive a salary, benefits, health insurance and free course tuition.
“You kind of get to learn more about different areas, you get to meet new people with different mindsets, skills, ways of approaching things, so it’s been an interesting path so far,” Karbula said.
During his time with the IBEW, he's worked with numerous local companies and contractors through the program, learning on the job and benefitting from the experience of more experienced electricians.
“Everybody kind of has that niche that they fall into ... You find other people that are really good at that and you learn from them,” he said. “Everyone’s so willing to hand out information, it’s a really good feeling actually.”
Carl Neutzling, who organizes the program for the IBEW, said it’s basically an opportunity to “get paid to learn.” But it can also benefit employers by connecting them to highly skilled workers who can be hired after the apprenticeship.
“National studies show an 86 to 91 percent retention rate (of former apprentices). It’s a very clear training path,” said Linda Hess, director of workforce development for North Central State College.
“A lot of companies are facing pretty large retirement numbers over the next 5 to 10 years and apprenticeships are the perfect way to get new employees in and training with those seasoned employees who can transfer that knowledge and make sure they’re learning that job very well," Hess said.
While the IBEW has had an apprenticeship program in place since the 1950s, other industries are incorporating programs into their own workforce development strategies.
In September, more than 20,000 apprentices were enrolled in a program through ApprenticeOhio, the authorized apprenticeship agency for the state.
Newman Technology is just one of the local manufacturers who employ apprentices.
“The program is specialized to what our needs are,” said Deb Carper of Newman Technology’s human resources department. “It’s basically giving (apprentices) the opportunity to learn the business, learn the machinery, get their journeyman card and they’re certified once they complete the program.”
In her role at NCSC, Hess helps coordinate local apprenticeship programs in industries such as tool and die, electrical maintenance, industrial maintenance, millwrighting, electromechanical technician and electrical engineering. A surgical technician program is currently in the works.
According to Hess, those who complete apprenticeship programs typically earn all the certifications necessary to work in their career field.
“Once you reach an apprenticeship standard in any occupation, you’re recognized as being full qualified in that occupation,” she said.
ApprenticeOhio found that its participants were earning an average of $60,000 a year upon completion of an apprenticeship program.
“I think the main message is you don’t have to go to college to make a living wage. You don’t have to have college debt,” said Teresa Alt with the Richland County Youth and Family Council.
Alt added that apprenticeships aren’t just an alternative to college. They can often be applied toward a college degree.
Additional information can be found at apprentice.ohio.gov.