WOOSTER — School is out, but buses were running.

For three days, educators took on the role of students on a workforce development road trip.

Teachers, counselors, administrators and other school staff members from districts across the tri-county area spent three days this week (June 5-7) visiting area businesses to learn about workforce development and discovered a world of work — from medical assistants, registrars and dietitians to electrical engineers, lawyers and designers. All these careers require a variety of post-high school preparation, including two-year and four-year programs and earning while learning in apprenticeship and co-op programs.

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Vital Connections program participants boarded school buses and made stops around the county to gather information for their students on available jobs. Aultman Orrville Hospital was one of the jumping off points where they heard of a number of opportunities available.

A shortage of medical assistants was cited, but they were also told by hospital personnel that in addition to physicians, nurses, and radiology technicians, the hospital hires social workers, athletic trainers, exercise specialists, dietitians and security guards to round out the work force.

Natalie Vansickle, highlighting the hospital laboratory, reinforced the idea of non-traditional, hospital-related occupations.

“You’re not locked into a clinical setting,” she said; for example, a laboratory-related career in sales or repair is possible.

Similarly, “You can go into nursing and never touch a patient,” said registered nurse Tisha Dalessandro, acquainting Vital Connections participants with the reality that at least one of the traditional hospital roles, nursing, may not be as straightforward as they thought.

Of course, “you have to get through nursing school first,” Dalessandro said, but after getting a degree, a nurse may explore many other opportunities beyond direct patient care such as research and education.

Rosetta Spitler, who trained at the Wayne County Schools Career Center, holds a position at Aultman Orrville not always on job seekers’ radar as an analyst in health information management, formerly called medical records. Students not headed to college may also be trained as registrars.

The need for radiology technicians is expected to grow by 9 percent between now and 2024, according to Kim Masters of Aultman Hospital, who explained her job in part by the numbers.

“There are two-year and four-year programs,” she said, at a training cost of $6,000-$20,000.

Depending on several factors, a wide range of salaries are available with an average wage of $23.14 an hour. In nuclear medicine, a radiology technician can make $32 an hour.

The possible downside to her career, she said, “you have to get through physics,” in addition to other challenging courses such as radiation biology.

“There is (also) some physicality (involved in caring for patients),” Masters added, such as lifting them.

Radiology technicians may explore employment in many types of facilities beyond the hospital setting, she said, “We are in a lot of different arenas.”

Pharmacy is also “a constantly growing field,” said newly minted Aultman pharmacist Joel Luecke. In Ohio, jobs are anticipated to grow at a rate of about 2 percent per year.

Aultman Hospital isn’t the only job incubator around the country.

Lisa Hottle, formerly an educator and now employed in human resources by the J. M. Smucker Co., said she was “born and raised in Orrville,” but didn’t understand the employment opportunities that abounded locally.

“There are a plethora,” Hottle said, adding, a huge area of need at Smucker’s is electrical engineering. “You don’t see students going into that.”

“(Law) is a wide-open career,” said Adam Ekonomon, an attorney at the Smucker Company. “There are so many places your law degree takes you,” and any major in college can be a springboard.

“Major in what you want; then think about law school.”, Ekonomon said, suggesting majoring in English, based on the importance of being able to write well and use proper grammar.

LuK engineer Aaron Holmes, a graduate of Triway High School and Ohio Northern University, commended STEM programs as good preparation for future employment.

“The same thing you’re doing (in STEM activities) is what we’re doing,” said Holmes, who began his work experience in his dad’s woodworking shop, where he simply liked to make things.

“I was good at math and science,” he said, another early clue about the career field he would ultimately pursue, and took math classes at the College of Wooster while in high school and gained work experience before graduating.

Highlighting apprenticeship programs for jobs in manufacturing, Holmes pointed out that like himself, “A lot of (employees) are home-grown.”

One of the topics that continually surfaces in discussion of post-high school options is whether to attend college or join the work force.

Melissa Abrams, a Hillsdale High School science teacher, said she thinks schools are “pushing kids to take college classes” and not similarly urging exploration of immediate employment options.

Even at lunchtime, college recruiters market their schools to students, Abrams said, adding, “Businesses could do the same.”

Beth Gaubatz, a Career Connections coordinator for Tri-County Educational Service Center, pointed out employers value higher education, but going to college right after graduating from high school “isn’t the only way” to achieve it.

“There are employers out there who will pay for your (additional) education,” Gaubatz said. 

Wooster High School guidance counselor Cheryl Goff said it was helpful “to learn what manufacturers are offering or have for our students.”

Vital Connections participants also made stops over the three-day period at PFI Displays Inc. in Rittman, Rayco and GOJO Industries in Wooster, Venture Products Inc. in Orrville and The Village Network, headquartered in Wooster.

Vital Connections was organized by organizations and schools including Tri-County ESC, the Workforce Innovations Network, the J.M. Smucker Company, Orrville City Schools, the Wayne County Schools Career Center and Heartland Educational Community.

— Reporter Linda Hall can be reached at lhall@the-daily-record.com o 330-264-1125, Ext. 2230. She is @lindahallTDR on Twitter.