CHAGRIN FALLS — Manufacturing is big business in Ohio. The manufacturing sector is the largest contributor to Ohio’s gross domestic product and boasts the Buckeye State’s third largest employment numbers.
With approximately 170 manufacturing establishments, Richland County is no exception to the rule. As of October 2019, there were 10,500 manufacturing jobs in the Mansfield area.
Despite the fact that manufacturing is alive and well, finding and retaining workers continues to be a challenge.
In northeast Ohio, employers are facing similar difficulties.
As the former chair of the Ohio Manufacturers’ Association board, and head of his own manufacturing company, Scott Balogh was well aware of the problem.
“The largest thing we’re dealing with is turnover,” said Balogh, president and CEO of Mar-Bal Incorporated, which develops and manufactures engineered composites. “Our biggest challenge is really teaching people what a job in manufacturing is."
Developing a strong, multi-generational workforce is essential to the future of businesses like Mar-Bal. So, Balogh started thinking about how to improve manufacturing education for high school students in his area.
After discussing workforce development with other manufacturers and with Brian Bontempo, superintendent of Auburn Career Center, it was decided to address a manufacturing workforce shortage by attracting students to the topic at an early age.
As a result, three school districts in Lake and Geauga Counties will begin offering the Certified Production Technician program to ninth and 10th graders during the 2020-2021 school year.
Teachers from Auburn will also be providing the hands-on training to teachers from each school district. In return, Auburn will use the high school classrooms and equipment to offer adult CPT courses in the evening.
“As a career center, we are actively involved not only with what happens within the four walls of our school but how we help our community and partners expand where there’s a need,” Bontempo said. “The challenge that we have is we need more people with credentials and training.
“The businesses need them. We have a capacity issue and we are trying to address it.”
The CPT program, an introductory-level credential program created by the Manufacturing Skill Standards Council, will offer students a glimpse at what a career in manufacturing could look like.
“It’s really about exposure, generating interest, and then if the student has an interest in it, we can really foster that interest,” Balogh said. “They might not want to work in machining, but they might want to be a welder.
"They might not want to be a manufacturing engineer, but they might be interested in being a tool or die manufacturer or a machinist.”
The program focuses on four critical functions: safety, manufacturing processes and production, quality practices and measurement and maintenance awareness.
“The CPT certificate is widely applicable to a number of contexts. The skills and concepts learned are highly transferable, bringing value to a variety of different types of work environments,” said Josh Englehart, superintendent of Painesville Local Schools. “With this certification in hand, students have an advantage as applicants to a whole range of potential career opportunities.”
Unlike many career education options, which require students to spend a large portion of the school day at a career center, the CPT program consists of a single class to be offered at traditional high schools.
“This provides students with the chance to explore if they are unsure of what they want to do after graduation, or jump on a “fast track" if they have a good idea of their desired destination,” Englehart said. “This is a program which will be housed on-site and built into our normal building schedule, which makes it much more available to and accessible for our students.”
Bontempo doesn't see the program as competing with career technical schools, but a potential stepping stone to one of Auburn's more specialized programs.
“I think it’s going to benefit the career center," Bontempo said. “This is the modern-day shop class. It’s the exploration, the introduction -- school districts can’t take them to the next place, that’s where we come in.”
Perhaps the greatest challenge to integrating the program into local high schools is finding funding for the equipment, training and licensing. Partnerships have been key. Schools and career centers have unique streams of funding to draw from, local manufacturers have agreed to help cover equipment costs.
If the program is successful, Balogh and Bontempo hope to get more school districts on board over the next three years.
For other communities that want to replicate their efforts, Balogh has one piece of advice -- collaboration is key.
“A lot of the work’s been done,” said Balogh, referencing the MSSC’s curriculum. “It’s really just for business people, you just have to get involved in the schools and the schools have to be open to talking to the business owners and manufacturing leaders.”