Skilled Trades Academy Impacts Students’ Lives, Rejuvenates Local Workforce

Posted on: January 25, 2023

This year’s Ottawa County Skilled Trades Academy class is learning skills and accreditations that will give them an edge went they enter the workforce. Shown here are (back row, left to right): Emahje Buckley, Natalie Rose, Gavin Maloy, Zach Clune, Gavin Bolyard, Hayden Craig and Ben Chapman. (Front row, left to right): Instructor Nick Hendrickson, Jordan Mazur, Olivia Dove, Gracie Knecht, Owen Auxter, Caden Auxier and Instructor Nick Wuertz. Not pictured are: Kayden Burroughs, Ethan Razenberger and Jacob Roginski. 

Inside the Ottawa County Skilled Trades Academy classroom, 15 students are gaining professional skills, earning accreditations and building their futures. Now in its fourth year, the Skilled Trades Academy is preparing a group of high school seniors for work and for life.

Homeschooled student Gracie Knecht is learning welding as a student at Ottawa County Skilled Trades Academy.

In 2019, the Ottawa County Business Advisory Council, which is administered by the Ottawa County Improvement Corporation (OCIC), opened the Skilled Trades Academy with the financial support of the Ottawa County Community Foundation. It was a unique opportunity for Ottawa County high school seniors to gain skills that would give them an advantage as they enter the workforce after graduation.

On the community end, the academy helps train much-needed future employees. The academy provides skilled trades training for students who chose not to attend area technical schools as juniors, but soon realized they had an interest in skilled trades.

“These are students from various local schools who had, for whatever reason, not taken the technical school path,” said OCIC Executive Director Chris Singerling. Now, he says, a new path has opened up for them.

At the academy, students study a variety of skilled trades, including welding, electrical, woodworking and maintenance. By the end of the year, students can earn Manufacturing Skill Standards Council Certified Production Technician 4.0 certification, Northwest State Community College Production Technician certification, OSHA10 certification, CPR and AED certification, and Fork Truck certification.

“The OSHA certification, especially, is huge,” said instructor Nick Hendrickson. “Companies look for this. When these kids go to job interviews, companies will love this. This goes with them the rest of their lives.”

But the benefits start as soon as they graduate.

Instructor Nick Wuertz, left, teaches electrical skills to students Hayden Craig, Gavin Bolyard and Zach Clune,
all Oak Harbor High School seniors, using an electrical training board.

“I came here because I didn’t want to go to college. I want to work right after graduation,” said student Hayden Craig. “This gives me more certifications than some people in the field, more than people working right now.”

The skills the students learn will not only give them a professional edge in the workforce, but they also provide life skills.

“I came here to learn things I didn’t know so I don’t have to pay a guy to do it for me later in life, whether that’s working on my car or wiring my home,” said student Zach Clune.

When student Gavin Bolyard enrolled in the Skilled Trades Academy, he wasn’t sure what field he wanted to pursue. The academy exposes students to a number of different skilled trades, giving them the opportunity to discover a new professional passion.

“I came here to be more open to opportunities, to open my eyes to something I didn’t know I’d be good at or like,” Bolyard said.

The success of the academy has been dependent on community support. Local businesses like Klein Tool, Gordon Lumber in Genoa, and LogistiQ, a Division of LEWCO in Port Clinton, have provided abundant support and donations. North Point Educational Service Center served as the fiscal agent for an Ohio Department of Education Industry-Recognized Credential Grant, which provided funding for instructor salaries. The Great Lakes Community Action Partnership served as the fiscal agent for an Industry Sector Partnership Grant through Lt. Gov. Jon Husted that funded about $50,000 in equipment and promotional material.

Instructor Nick Wuertz said the academy can expand to impact more students and, in turn, impact the local workforce if the community would offer even more support, whether that comes through donations, internships, grants or advice.

“I have kids looking at careers in carpentry, electrical and automotive. In the future, I’m hoping to get more involvement from the community,” Wuertz said.

As businesses invest in the academy, they are investing in the local workforce, said Workforce and Career Exploration Manager Katherine Adams.

“We welcome business visits, whether here or at their business,” Adams said. “Businesses can help us identify what areas they need and, hopefully, we can help them meet those needs.”

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