Putnam County Launches 7th Pre-Apprenticeship Program in NW Ohio

Oct 19, 2021News, Newsletter

Amy Sealts
Putnam County Community Improvement Corporation


Putnam County launched its first state registered pre-apprenticeship program, Trade UP!, on August 25 with ten students in the 2021 cohort. According to Apprentice Ohio, this is only the 7th pre-apprentice program in northwest Ohio, which is comprised of 23 counties.

Trade UP! was 14 months in the making, and is a partnership of Putnam County CIC Office of Economic Development, OhioMeansJobs Putnam County, Production Products Inc., three local school districts and Northwest State Community College.

A state registered pre-apprenticeship offers high school students the ability to take industry specific courses and get on the job training and work experiences. During Trade UP!, students earn their OSHA 30-hour credential and then take hands-on courses in areas like benchwork, machine repair, and industrial electricity. These specific courses were chosen to provide participants with in-demand skills and meet the needs of Production Products Inc. in Columbus Grove. Pre-apprenticeship is a career pathway and a direct path into to a state registered apprenticeship with an employer.

Suzy Wischmeyer, Director of OhioMeansJobs Putnam County, and Amy Sealts, Director of Economic Development for Putnam County partnered to introduce the concept to numerous local manufacturers and pulled in leaders from Northwest State Community College to assist with the effort. Wischmeyer said the OMJ staff role was to connect with local high school guidance counselors and principals and then work to recruit and enroll students in the program, ensure parents understood the process and assist with training and other fiscal resources.

Production Products Inc., a tier one automotive supplier in Columbus Grove, OH. first reached out to the OhioMeans Jobs and the economic development office in early 2020. Human Resources Manager Tina Siewert asked the leaders of both organizations to brainstorm workforce ideas. Together, numerous meetings and calls were held with Production Products, Inc. and four other major employers in the county to address skills gaps, career pathways and a variety of other options to support the local workforce pipeline for the manufacturing sector. PPI was the first employer to offer its training facility, resources and supervisors to help develop the county’s first state-registered pre-apprentice program. Siewert said increasing the support for student career navigation is something she’s been wanting to do the last several years to help them gain skills and awareness they need to enter and succeed in the local workforce.

Production Products, Inc. selected four local school districts to target students for participation in the first cohort. Administrators and guidance counselors came to the facility for on-site meetings, participated in tours led by employees and worked with their respective boards of education to gain support for offering Trade UP! as a credit program for students. The schools also assisted with scheduling, ensuring coursework complies with graduation requirements and recruiting students to apply for the program. As schools opted into the program, their students and parent also participated in employee-led tours to learn about the culture of the company and reduce stigma about manufacturing careers.

The response from parents and students has been exceptional thus far. All of the students have obtained their 30-hour OSHA card and are currently completing hands-on learning modules. As students turn age 18, they transition to on-the-job training on the manufacturing floor.

Leipsic High School Principal Brian Bennett described Trade UP! as an opportunity for students to obtain real world skills, industry recognized credentials and college credit that will be beneficial to them in today’s job market and the future job market.

Nick Verhoff, Superintendent of Columbus Grove Schools said the district supports Trade UP! because it’s an excellent chance for students to acquire important work credentials, build a work history, and make money while fulfilling high school requirements. He said the partnership has added benefits to the district because it enhances local employment and the tax base in the community.

Amy Sealts, Putnam County Economic Development Director, said having partners from Northwest State Community College was key in the creating the pre-apprenticeship program. Tori Atkinson, Director of Workforce Development and Innovative Learning, Jim Drewes, VP of Workforce, and Matt Kibler, JFS Trainer, were instrumental in educating local partners on the components of a state registered pre-apprentice program as well as working with schools and businesses to develop program requirements and handle reporting to Apprentice Ohio.

“This is a great win for Putnam County. All the partners were flexible and easy to work with. Anytime you have this many parties at the table, we all have to be rowing in the same direction, and the main focus of this group is quality opportunities for local students and meeting the local workforce needs, Drewes said.

In November, the workforce partners will begin planning for the 2022 student cohort and additional employers who want to participate.