AVON LAKE, OH (WOIO) - The employees at Thogus in Avon Lake aren't turning wrenches. They're operating robots, and growing steel. And they're the future of manufacturing.
"I've got a wife and a house and a solid job, and I've got job offers coming in all the time," said Tyler Johnson.
ArcelorMittal Cleveland is at it's highest manning levels since LTV days and they're competing with other plants for the new generation of blue collar workers.
"Within 3 years they will be making an access of $75,000 plus very good benefits," said Vice President Eric Hauge.
Those are just a couple of examples of the way some vocationally trained employees are boosting their earnings and capitalizing on new opportunities in familiar industries.
Johnson spent four years at Lorain County Joint Vocational School before completing a tool and die apprenticeship at Thogus.
"I met some resistance from guidance counselors who were trying to steer me more toward college, like everybody else. But I knew that wasn't right for me," he said.
CEO, Matt Hlavin and others from Thogus serve as advisors and on boards at Lorain County Community College, Cleveland State University and Cuyahoga Community College to help meet the need of their growing industry.
"We help build and guide their staff, their faculty, and write curriculum that will be relevant to create meaningful jobs," said Hlavin.
He says the new generation of tool makers will be among the most in-demand job seekers.
"The skill set is very rare and unique right now. It's kin to plumbers and HVAC industry. It's a dying breed so you have pay more because of supply and demand," said Hlavin.
The environment at ArcelorMittal Steel has also evolved significantly as they come up with ways to automate their process. But the average age of their employees is 51 and they expect to see a 25% turnover in the next five years because of attrition.
"We're hiring right now. We've brought in almost fifty people so far this year," Hauge said.
Vice President Eric Hauge says it's very difficult to find skilled people to hire. So they're reaching out to young people through the Steel Worker for the Future Program, to help "home grow" some talent. Graduates get a two year degree in electrical or mechanical technology, plus money to pay for college, through internships, and hands on experience in a steel mill.
"Since the recession in 2008-2009, manufacturing has been the source of growth in northeast Ohio...the need for technical people in all these jobs continues to grow," Hauge said.
Shannon Bolden has a four year degree in Computer Science. He worked in retail management for a dozen years. Then, at 37, trained to become a steel worker.
"It was a big leap of faith on my part to change my career at that point," said Bolden.
He says the offer was too good to pass up.
"With my first year with ArcelorMittal I was more than able to double my salary that I was earning while in retail management. And this year I'm on track to possibly triple, well into six figures," he said.
Manufacturing isn't the only field where there's a significant void in the workforce development and skill gaps. William Gary, Tri-C's executive vice president of workforce says there is a lot of opportunity in health care, public safety, information technology as well.
"Those kinds of skills now, don't necessarily require a four year degree but command a tremendous level of salary. That now is incentivizing people to take that career pathway," said Gary.
He says they're working to change the message, that students' success should not be restricted to a two or four year degree. Wages are key to that conversation.
"When I can talk to students who have not traditionally had wages beyond 10 and 12 per hour...and they can achieve 20-22 dollars an hour and ultimately within 5-6 years make 90 thousand dollars, that's significant," Gary said.
Tyler Higginbotha, an employee at Thogus, says those who think you can't make a good living without a college degree are wrong.
"They just don't feel like the opportunities are out there or even know that the opportunities are out there. Once they know that, they can apply and see their earnings that they can get through it then I'm sure that they would change their mind," he said.
He and others who have a solid future and no college debt, believe the conversation about today's blue collar jobs needs to change.
"They were frowned upon by our counselors and I think American society really frowns upon them. And I think forget a lot of times that it's the backbone that created this country. It's really good to see that northeast Ohio is really starting to boom and we have a dire need for people to fill these skilled positions," said Bolden.
Download the Cleveland 19 News app.