OSWEGO COUNTY – In the next few years a large chunk of Oswego county’s manufacturing workforce is due to retire, leaving several job openings that will need to be filled by the next generation.
Anticipating this impending shortage, the Center for Instruction, Technology and Innovation (CiTi BOCES) started a program in 2016 to provide a more direct path for students to the manufacturing industry following their education: P-TECH.
It is a five-year program that begins when a student is in 9th grade. By the end of it, the student earns a high school degree, an Associate’s degree, no student debt, and hands-on experience.
As of this year, there are 143 students from across the county in the program. The first cohort of students to finish the program will graduate in 2021 and will then enter the industry.
They are currently seniors in high school and will be able to do paid internships this summer. Their education this year is housed solely at Onondaga Community College to take mechanical and electrical engineering classes while they finish up their high school requirements.
The following partner with the program: Onondaga Community College, Novelis, Huhtamaki, Attis, Fulton Companies and Davis-Standard.
“Those industries sit on our governance team which is really what helps to direct and guide the program,” said Bill Lynch, P-TECH workforce partner liaison.
When they begin in their first few years of the program, students are introduced to the industry and do site visits at partnering companies. Freshmen and sophomores spend their school days at the CiTi campus.
Mentors follow them throughout their education to help them learn more from people already in their projected career. Lynch said there is typically one mentor for about three students and they meet every six weeks.
During their junior year of high school, they spend Tuesdays and Thursdays at OCC and they shadow people currently in the industry at the end of the school year. Then during their senior year they are eligible to do a paid internship. During their fifth year of the program, the students will learn full-time at OCC.
“The promise with the industry partners is that if they are successful in the program, they will have the first opportunity to be interviewed for positions,” Lynch said.
Lynch said it is not guaranteed that the students in the program will get a position just for being in the program, but that the industry partners see the program as a five-year interview process.
He said depending on the company and position, the students who get the positions can make anywhere between $50,000 and $65,000 their first year without the usual college debt.
Leila Giancone, communications lead at Novelis, said close to 300 people in their workforce will be eligible to retire within the next five to eight years.
She said at the Oswego plant, Novelis employs close to 1,200 people and has about 50 current job openings in a wide range of positions they need to be filled, including about 30 salary positions and about 20 hourly positions.
Giancone said even as the industry is innovating and has evolved, there is still a need for people with varying skills and roles like chemists, software specialists, electrical engineers, developers and digital experts because the machines are “useless without people.”
“For manufacturing, it’s an extremely stable industry and there’s always a need for manufacturers,” Giancone said. “[The industry] requires a lot of smart and hardworking people to sustain that growth.
Giancone said the P-TECH program will help to fill the needed positions because it is getting students on a direct path to a career in the manufacturing industry earlier than the traditional college route.
Dave Lloyd, plant training coordinator at Novelis, is on the governing committee for the program. He has handled any interaction between P-TECH and Novelis since the beginning of the program, including setting up mini training programs.
He oversees the mentors from Novelis and is a mentor himself. Lloyd helps the students to learn professional skills and how their social media presence now can impact them later when they are applying for jobs.
“We have the opportunity to groom the kids to the needs of not just the industry, but just any good business in general. The future of these kids is bright,” Lloyd said. “I’m just excited to see the growth and maturity of these kids, looking at them as freshmen and just watching how they evolve.”
The industry partners were able to influence the curriculum to help make their basic education more geared toward the manufacturing industry to make it more relevant for their future careers. They have implemented professional skills that focus on communication, problem solving, timeliness and accountability.
Students currently in 8th grade who are interested in applying to the program’s next cohort have until March 27 to do so. They can apply online or contact the program to get a paper application. nty