The Journal Gazette
Sunday, May 15, 2022 1:00 am

Students commit to future of learning

Signing events promote skills-based education

LISA GREEN | The Journal Gazette

Rusty Reed is 59, but he quickly recalls his youthful days when he might fail a class one semester and pull a B the next.

“I didn't do well in school, and yet they said I was extremely smart,” said Reed, who has been on the same job for 37 years with a metal fabrication business and enjoys a leadership role.

The long-time Ottenweller Co. employee is a graduate of what is now known as Fort Wayne Community Schools' Career Academy at Anthis, which was offering vocational training more than 40 years ago, when Reed attended.

He remembers attending regular morning classes at his high school and then being bused to the vocational school. He liked shop classes. He liked welding. He liked putting things together. And Reed, who has made a career doing what he likes, will share his experiences with students at a “signing ceremony” Tuesday at the Career Academy.

Tuesday's event is one of several northeast Indiana ceremonies involving more than 130 students as Career & Technical Education Awareness Month is observed.

Northeast Indiana Works and the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership designated the month several years ago to promote skills-based training that leads to certifications and then employment after high school. The signings symbolize commitments to work for companies and, in some cases, also represent agreements to participate in apprenticeships.

The Northeast Indiana Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education, or NEINFAME, has a similar initiative.

While unemployment is less than 3% in Allen County, based on the last state report, many employers struggle to find talent for job openings.

On April 29, 12 graduating high school seniors from northeast Indiana participated in a ceremony at the Steel Dynamics Inc. Keith E. Busse Technology Center, Fort Wayne. They signed their intent to participate in the next two-year cohort of the NEINFAME program, beginning in the 2022-23 school year.

The program promotes the importance of training and education for advanced manufacturing jobs among young people throughout the region. NEINFAME connects area students with employers to sponsor their pursuit of a two-year degree, a news release said.

Sponsors provide selected students enrolled in classes with paid part-time work. The students will earn an associate degree in Applied Science in Industrial Technology from Ivy Tech Community College Fort Wayne.

“These are important industries and employers to the regional economy, as you know, and the need for highly skilled and trained labor will only continue to grow in the coming years,” Kevin Erb, a NEINFAME spokesman, said through email.

For Career & Technical Education Awareness Month, 12 graduating seniors from Bluffton, Norwell, South Adams and Adams Central participated in a signing ceremony in Decatur. It was coordinated with the Adams Wells Manufacturing Alliance. Participating employers include Briner Buildings in Bluffton, Red Gold in Geneva, Berne Ready Mix in Berne and Trusted Manufacturing in Ossian.

For Fort Wayne Community Schools Career Academy, more than 70 seniors will be involved in a signing ceremony Tuesday with multiple employers. Jesse Webb, principal/director of the academy, said there were too many companies to list.

“Let's just say we have some big companies from Fort Wayne, Allen County and northeast Indiana that are recognizing our students' abilities,” Webb said through email. Career and technical education courses give students “a chance to be successful in life.”

Other signing ceremonies this week are scheduled for the IMPACT Institute in Kendallville and the Garrett-Keyser-Butler Community Schools for dozens more students. Some education providers, including the Heartland Career Center in Wabash, conduct similar ceremonies throughout the year.

“Students who complete CTE learning and experience opportunities are essential to the well-being of workforces through northeast Indiana and generally to the regional economy,” Edmond O'Neal, president and CEO of Northeast Indiana Works, said in a statement.

Reed, who will speak at the Tuesday signing ceremony, said that although his academic performance in the traditional classroom wasn't always great, he liked being in shop classes. Even as a youth, he enjoyed building things – assembling go-carts or bikes, he said.

His parents were concerned about his prospects after high school, and someone suggested he talk with a guidance counselor. That's how he found out about the regional vocational school and the skills training.

“I looked at it as a way to get out of class,” Reed said last week.

But it helped provide the foundation for a career.

Reed said he took about a year off after high school before getting a welding and fabricating job at a business where he worked three to four years before being laid off. He was unemployed for about two weeks before landing a job at Ottenweller, where he is now a lead programmer and coordinator for machining efficiency assurance.

He carries the SME designation – Subject Matter Expert – within Ottenweller's Engineering Group. That means he creates Standard Operating Procedure documents to help employees run production and answers all questions on machined products.

“With my constant drive to learn more, I have moved on up to several different positions over the years and have not been a welder for the past 27 years ... although I like to always continue with hands-on,” Reed said.

At his age, Reed could consider winding his career down in a few years, but he loves what he does, so retirement isn't on the horizon.

“I'm not built for that,” he said. “The ride home and to work is the most I sit.”

Instead, Reed is intent on working until he can't – literally.

“I actually hope that I can process and think and continue to work,” he said, “until the day I'm dead.”

At a glance

Upcoming signing ceremonies for Career & Technical Education Awareness Month:

• Tuesday: 10 a.m. in the auditorium at Fort Wayne Community Schools' Career Academy, 1200 S. Barr St. More than 70 seniors are scheduled to sign full-time employment opportunities with numerous employers.

• Wednesday: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the IMPACT Institute in Kendallville. The ceremony involving 31 graduating students includes job and apprenticeship agreements. Some students have enrolled in various colleges and universities for post-secondary education, continuing the instruction from the past two years in career and technical training. Participating employers include Mold Services, Protech Marine, Angola Canvas, Tycol Excavating, Kammerer Dynamics, Inc., Armstrong Heating and Air and Local 166 Plumbers and Steamfitters.

• Friday: 3:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. for Garrett-Keyser-Butler Community Schools. The ceremony includes at least 17 students signing employment/apprenticeship agreements. It will be at 1002 Joanna Court, site of the second home built by building trades students, in a cul-de-sac across from the high school. The ceremony will include food trucks and a band. Participating employers include TNT Plumbing, TFC Canopy, Brooks Construction, Nucor, MTI and Vestil.

Source: Northeast Indiana Works, the region's workforce development board, and individual education and training entities.

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