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Not going to college? Local officials urge another path to high-paying jobs

High-paying trade jobs in the Dayton area are going unfilled because not enough workers with those skills are available, so local officials are encouraging students to consider apprenticeships if they’re not going to college.

City, school and trade union officials spoke to teachers about the opportunities trade apprenticeships can provide students during a Thursday event at the IBEW Union Hall Local 82. Apprenticeships in trades can give students who can’t afford or aren’t interested in college an opportunity to build a well-paying career in fields such as masonry, carpentry and electrical work, they said.

“We need your help in spreading the message that there’s something out there that will work for those students that either don’t want to go to college, can’t afford to go to college at this stage in their life but want to be productive,” Dayton Public Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Lolli said.

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Teachers heard testimonials from current and former apprentices. Justin Geer, a 2014 Ponitz Career Technology Center graduate and a master carpenter at Valley Interior Systems, said he “had to think of something fast” after his daughter was born during his senior year of high school. He found an apprenticeship and started three days after he graduated.

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“I am comfortable where I’m at in my life,” he said. “I don’t have to worry about debt from student loans, I have healthcare for my family and I go on vacation and come back with the bills paid.”

Dayton City Commissioner Chris Shaw said events like Thursday’s are important for the entire community, not just the students who might go into apprenticeships. The goal is to create a pipeline for students to enter high-paying jobs, revitalizing the local economy and attracting more business to Dayton.

“This is more than just a workforce issue,” Shaw said. “As we go about doing the work of attracting business to this community, the number one question is, do you have a skilled workforce?”

Speakers addressed misconceptions about entering apprenticeships. It doesn’t mean the student will never attend college, said John Hayes, president of Dayton Building and Construction Trades. In fact, students in many apprenticeships earn course credit toward a two-year degree.

Hayes also urged teachers to guide female students to apprenticeships.

“We have quite a few ladies who are in our business here, and let me tell you, we want more of them,” he said. “You ain’t seen some of our girls, they do the job, they do it better than most (workers).”

Dayton-Miami Valley Regional Labor Council President Tom Ritchie said, unlike students paying to go to college, apprentices are paid to learn a valuable trade. At the end of the apprenticeship, the workers have access to jobs that can pay $30 an hour.

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But most apprenticeships require driver’s licenses and vehicles, which can be a hurdle. Other teachers asked what to say to students who worry the jobs will be too physically demanding.

Speakers said young people who are worried about the work should give it a try anyway – there are over a dozen trades, including electrical work, masonry and more. Others said teachers should highlight the high pay of the positions, which can allow workers to support their families.

“My family motivated me,” Geer said. “I was scared about (the work) at first, too, until I had my baby. You gotta do what you gotta do.”

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