BUTLER TWP — Thirty-six secondary schools and businesses attended the annual Butler County Vocational-Technical School career fair Nov. 7, offering information to about 950 students.
Skilled workers are in demand, said Joe Cunningham, vo-tech director, and Stephanie Karwoski, vo-tech guidance counselor, and enrollment at the school is rising.
“The trend that I'm seeing is that given the exorbitant cost of a college education and the inability to secure a career in some of the liberal arts, (students) are turning to technical education because that's where the jobs are right now,” Cunningham said.
Vo-tech students, who take academic courses at seven Butler County school districts, can major in 15 programs at the school. Often, vo-tech courses translate into college credit at Butler County Community College and other schools.
“The vo-tech program is working hand-in-hand with our BC3 program,” said Morgan Rizzardi, BC3's assistant director of admissions.
The hands-on experience students get at the vo-tech gives them credit toward a certificate or an associate's degree after they complete academic courses at BC3, Rizzardi said.
“Our kids have a wide range of interests in post-secondary,” said Karwoski.
Often, students must choose whether to find a job immediately after high school or to pursue a one-, two- or four-year certification or degree.
For example, Colton Martin, a Slippery Rock junior in the vo-tech's welding program, said he'd have to decide whether to go to college or to get a welding job once he graduates.
A representative of Ironworkers Local 3 told him he could do both, he said. Ironworkers build bridges, highways and commercial structures.
“You can get college credits through their apprenticeship program,” Martin said.
James Gallik, Local 3's apprentice coordinator, said the union's tuition-free curriculum is accredited through the Community College of Allegheny County.
Young ironworkers attend school seven weeks a year for three years and earn $17 an hour when they work, he said. After graduation, they are journeymen ironworkers and earn $32 an hour, Gallik said. About 100 ironworker jobs open up each year, he said.
“We're looking for good people,” he said. “Welding students here have an advantage.”
Commercial art student Hope Bremiller, a junior from Moniteau, was impressed with the career fair.
“You get to go around to all the classrooms and talk to people who work (in the fields),” she said.
She learned about several schools that offer her the opportunity to learn more about computer animation, her current focus.
“Both ... their (commercial art and graphic design) programs are phenomenal,” said Chad Daugherty, a high school representative from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. “A lot of it is finding out what (students) want to do in the ... industry — graphics, photography, web design, animation.”
The vo-tech also gets calls from employers who want to hire students right out of high school, said Karwoski. She's received calls for welders, for health care workers, from car dealers and from manufacturers, she said.
The vo-tech is seeing nontraditional students enter its programs, including females in welding and males in health care.
“People, regardless of race or sex, are seeing the opportunities available and taking advantage of those,” said Cunningham.