A lesser-explored career path with big benefits for students

Published: Wednesday, October 04, 2017 @ 8:00 AM

As early as a high school student’s sophomore year, post-graduation plans are discussed and college visits are the norm. For students who are motivated about their futures, want to explore their career options, or who have a clear dream they want to achieve, one option they should consider is attending a career and technical school like the Upper Valley Career Center.  

At Upper Valley CC, which is located in Piqua, high school students can begin their career pathway, earn college credits and start to work in their desired field — all while remaining active in sports and other activities at their home school. 

The school offers 25 programs within 12 career clusters. A wide range of programs are available including pre-engineering, manufacturing, welding, culinary arts, early childhood education, exercise science, and veterinary science and electronics. 

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Kirsten Fries

Last spring, Kirsten Fries, an Upper Valley Career Center HVAC/R senior from Covington High School, was offered an apprenticeship with Emerson Climate Technologies in Sidney. She is one of 62 Upper Valley CC students serving in apprenticeships this school year. Fries spent her summer break working full time for Emerson.  

“I work in the transport lab, running tests on compressors and making sure they can withstand certain thresholds,” she explained. Fries said she learned about HVAC/R and apprenticeships from her brother, Ian, who also was in the program at Upper Valley. “I think the best thing about being an apprentice is the experience. You are working on a job that could potentially employ you for years after high school -- you learn so much.”  

With the start of her senior year, Fries and the other apprentices switched from full-time work schedule to a two-week work/school rotation. They spend two weeks on the job and two weeks back at school for senior-level classes and lab.  

Besides earning a good income while in high school, Fries has a solid plan for her future. After earning a diploma from Covington High School and a two-year career tech certificate through Upper Valley CC, Fries hopes to stay on staff with Emerson. “Emerson offers a tuition reimbursement program. I’d like to go to college to further my career in HVAC and maybe someday work with my brother,” she said. 

Thousands of career-tech students from across Miami and Shelby counties have excelled upon graduating and completing their high school or post-secondary education at Upper Valley CC.  

Levi Lavy

Levi Lavy, another Career Center senior, says he didn’t know anything about welding when he enrolled in the program. “I thought I wanted to be a diesel tech, working on semis. I knew they were paid more if they could also weld framework, since it is a difficult task. When I got into welding, I found out I’d rather do this full time.” 

Lavy serves his apprenticeship at Kerber Sheet Metal in Troy, through the Local 24 Sheet Metal Workers Union. Upper Valley Career Center apprenticeship coordinator Tony Trapp sees this as an exceptional opportunity. “When Levi graduates from high school, he will be a registered apprentice, starting his second year and working toward his journeyman certification.”  

Lavy understands the importance of this. He looks forward to continued learning and hopes to master design and layouts for laser cut parts in his fourth and fifth year.  

Lavy is taking advantage of another distinct opportunity available to Upper Valley Career Center apprentices this year. Along with Trapp, industrial training instructional supervisor Roger Voisard, and nine other apprentices, Lavy has been selected for a trip to Germany. After hosting five German career-tech exchange students here in September, the Upper Valley CC group will spend 10 days in and around Hannover later this fall. They will visit manufacturing centers that employ apprentices and the career tech school where the exchange students receive their education. Lavy isn’t certain what to expect from the trip, but is looking forward to the visit and learning about the culture and different work environments.  

The apprenticeship opportunity 

Trapp has coordinated the exchange experience to be mutually beneficial for the Upper Valley CC students and their German counterparts.  

“American employers need skilled workers now, and they need leaders for the future,” Trapp said. “The German apprenticeship model has been very successful in providing both, and we are working to replicate that success. It doesn’t look exactly like what will see during our November visit, but as we respond to the needs of our students, it impacts local employers and our workforce development partners equally.  

“The nice thing about our students is they have a year of training before committing to the apprenticeship. They already have a level of skill, and they have determined that this career is what they want to do.”  

This year Trapp anticipates the 62 Upper Valley CC high school apprentices will collectively earn over $1 million in wages before graduation. Learning combined with earning is a happy alternative to crippling college debt. He said, “This is life-changing for our young apprentices and has a very positive impact on the overall community,”  

Utilizing a unique curriculum of business and education, linked with a formal apprenticeship program approved by the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Apprenticeship, the school-to-apprenticeship program at Upper Valley CC assists students in entering an occupation requiring a high level of skill. 

“The program is an opportunity for students to get a jump start in their career, receive on-the-job training, and gain exposure to real work environments,” Trapp said. “Students who work as apprentices can legally perform tasks and gain experience that their peers are not permitted, because this is part of their state-approved CTE training.”  

Opportunities also are available for adults who want to advance their careers. Upper Valley CC offers accredited adult post-secondary education, Aspire, apprenticeship training and customized workforce development.  

Want to know more? Learn about the programs offered at Upper Valley Career Center or find out how your company can partner with Upper Valley CC to recruit skilled employees.