Flying High Students Get Hands-On Welding Experience

As featured on BusinessJournalDaily.com, Written By Dan O’Brien

BOARDMAN, Ohio – Kennedy Stewart said she’s had aspirations for a career in the manufacturing sector for several years. Now, she’s living out that dream thanks to a program that prepares adults for jobs in the industry.

“I started welding three years ago,” she says. “I went to Choffin for two years, then took a year off to save some money.”

Then, she heard about the Mahoning Valley Partnership for Employment, a program sponsored by Flying High Inc. Flying High is a not-for-profit organization that helps those who have experienced educational or legal barriers that have hindered them from entering the job market.

“I went through the three-month course and got this job,” Stewart says.

Stewart is now three months into her new job as a welder at Shapes Unlimited Inc. in Boardman, a partner company in the program.

“We manufacture a welded, powder coated gate, and Flying High is working with us in our weld shop,” says Steve Gruver, president. “Over the past two years, we’ve been doing really well.”

The company has 44 full-time employees, two of which were hired from the Flying High program. Shapes Unlimited sells wholesale fencing and gate assemblies to distributors and contractors east of the Mississippi.

“We’ll do anything to help the community, and we’d love to do more of this,” he said. “This is a great opportunity to learn about it and have hands-on experience. For us, it could mean potential employees down the road.”

Pictured: Christian McCarty, welding student and Kennedy Stewart, Shapes Unlimited welder and former student.

David Knickerbocker, the program’s job developer for manufacturing, says you gain hands-on experience when working with companies such as Shapes Unlimited. “When we had students graduate, they had problems getting acclimated,” he says. “Most of them never welded before.”

Knickerbocker said the solution was to invite companies to partner with the program and allow students to work on-site so they could gain fundamental knowledge of an industrial workplace.

This week, students in the welding program were gaining field experience at Shapes Unlimited and Columbiana Boiler in Columbiana, Knickerbocker said.

Flying High operates its own welding school and lab from the former Cafaro Hospital in Youngstown. It also runs a machinist program and uses a lab at Eastern Gateway Community College for the program. “We also do on-the-job training contracts,” he said. “Our graduates are earning while they’re learning.”

Joe Crockett, assistant welding instructor at Flying High, says the program opens up a tremendous amount of opportunity for those who would otherwise be overlooked in the job market. “It bridges the gap,” he said. “It gives them the field experience they need. That’s what’s great about this program.”

Those who have come through the program and are now working at the company have demonstrated a dedication and commitment to their job, observes Tony Boykin, assistant manager and head welder at Shapes Unlimited. “We’ve gone through a lot of welders, and we get a high grade welder coming out of this program.”

Knickerbocker says students in the manufacturing program – the partnership also operates a similar training and employment initiative for health care – must meet at least five criteria to enter the program. Among these are possession of a valid driver’s license, a vehicle, completion of professionalism classes, completion of soft-skills training courses, and be able to pass a drug test.

“We begin to work on their resumes at the start of week eight,” of the 15-week program, Knickerbocker said. “We send the resumes out during week 12 and they start interviewing with our partner companies.”

Flying High partners with about 25 local companies, and has placed about 100 students in the manufacturing and health care programs, he said.

“I’m in the welding program and you learn all the processes,” said Christian McCarty, a student at Flying High. “They help you find a job, too. Everything you need to get into the workforce and thrive, to make a better life.”

Welding is an important trade to learn, McCarty says, since the pay is good and there appears to be a lot of job opportunity in the market. “There’s always a demand for it.”